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BERLINALE 2022 Panorama

Alain Guiraudie • Director of Nobody’s Hero

"The film plays with cliches a lot"

by 

- BERLINALE 2022: Terrorist attacks, collective paranoia, the French province torn between the past and the present: the French filmmaker tells us about his film, which opened the Panorama section

Alain Guiraudie  • Director of Nobody’s Hero
(© Les Films du Losange)

After going to Cannes four times (Staying Vertical [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Alain Guiraudie
film profile
]
in competition in 2016, Stranger by the Lake [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Alain Guiraudie
film profile
]
winning the Best Director award in the Un Certain Regard section in 2013, No Rest for The Brave [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
and The King of Escape [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
in Directors’ Fortnight in 2003 and 2009), French director Alain Guiraudie has opened the Panorama section of the 72nd Berlinale with his 6th feature film, Nobody's Hero [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Alain Guiraudie
film profile
]
, a very offbeat yet realistic social comedy.  

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Cineuropa: Why did you decide to make a comedy set against the backdrop of a terrorist attack, which is a rather delicate subject?
Alain Guiraudie: There have been a few films about terrorist attacks — Amanda [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Mikhaël Hers
film profile
]
and Nocturama [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Bertrand Bonello
film profile
]
, for example — but I thought that cinema hadn’t addressed very much what these attacks have implied for French society, the worry, the anxiety and even a form of paranoia that have taken a hold of us. Regarding the choice to do comedy, I was coming out of two very dark films and I wanted to return to something more joyful. And in our current, rather dark times, I also wanted to look more for what unites us than what divides us. Comedy is also a way to put some distance between things, to take ourselves a little less seriously, and to give less of an impression that you are delivering an edifying speech. The tragic aspect of the attacks, the “mourn the dead” side of them, had already been very present in all the debates and I wanted to avoid it, and to approach it all from a different angle. 

The  Vercingétorix statue, Gergovie street, the hôtel de France, etc. Several national, "Gallic" references are peppered throughout the story. Is this a political film?
There are messages, for example Isadora who says that when we see young people making themselves explode, and killing themselves while killing others, it’s a sign that we have a considerable problem in society. But it is most of all a film about the France from before and the France of today. Clermont-Ferrand [the city where the film is set] is for me the heart of a historical France that is kind of eternal, with Vercingétorix who has become a mythical figure. It isn’t a France that I want to give up to the far right. For the left, the idea of France is a little confusing today: this France of the past, this conversation about how France no longer exists in Europe and in the world, etc. Personally, I remain very attached to France, but the film plays a lot with cliches and commonplace ideas, to turn them on their heads or sometimes to consolidate them because if they are cliches now, there has to be a reason, something true at their root. It is also a political film, an evocation of today’s world because the debates agitating French society and western society are concentrated into one building: what do we do about the homeless man downstairs? About the immigrant at our door? 

The cliches are however a lot less Manichean than they first appear, and the film offers a playful treatment of complexity.
I worked with small touches, taking inspiration from rather simple things. I have for example sometimes been in the presence of racist people, but as soon as they are faced with a Black or Arab person, they become less so because their humanity takes over. We realise that apparently very vulgar and chauvinistic people are not necessarily racist, that it’s not just because someone smokes weed that they’re cool, not just because someone is gay that they’re on the left, etc. Life has taught me that no one is only one thing or completely fits the archetypes we have in our minds. And I think it is a good thing to take these archetypes apart: people are more complex than that. Indeed, even if that’s not a new thing in my work, I might have pushed things a little further in this film. My characters are always social archetypes, but I look for their singularity. 

What about the openly vaudeville aspect of the film?
I was coming out of two films with very strong formal concepts, bordering on the contemplative, and I wanted to return to a less ostentatious form, something more discreet. This film is more akin to the graphic novel and the boulevard theatre. I thought a lot about Almodóvar’s apartment comedies, such as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown or What Have I Done to Deserve This?, about Sacha Guitry, about The Rules of the Game by Renoir where there is a very vaudeville side to things, but where tragedy emerges from a kind of ambient lightheartedness, from carelessness. Vaudeville is also a very French exercise that we tend to treat with a bit of disdain, but which remains a very funny formula that goes back to the origins of comedy. 

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(Translated from French)

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