Joachim Lafosse • Director
"Unravelling the figure of the saviour, the hero"
by Aurore Engelen
- Cineuropa caught up with Joachim Lafosse on the occasion of the release of his new film, The White Knights, which most notably questions the limits of humanitarian aid
After placing the family unit and the boundary-crossing mechanisms that result in tragedy under the microscope, Joachim Lafosse widens his scope of enquiry by dissecting a humanitarian fiasco in The White Knights [+see also:
interview: Joachim Lafosse
film profile], which was inspired by the Zoe’s Ark affair.
Cineuropa: Your films have a common theme: the road to hell is paved with good intentions
Joachim Lafosse: I find that my characters are often moved by the desire to do good, and that is how they end up thinking that the ends justify the means and stop questioning the meaning of limits and certain laws. That was the case with Private Lessons [+see also:
interview: Jacques-Henri Bronckart
interview: Joachim Lafosse
film profile], in which a professor, in the name of education, goes from transmission to transgression; it’s the generous doctor in Our Children [+see also:
interview: Joachim Lafosse
film profile] who welcomes a young couple into his home and imprisons them there, ending in tragedy. In The White Knights, it’s a group of professed humanitarian aid workers who, due to the suffering and desire of certain people for children, decides to go in search of orphans, giving themselves the right to lie. In life we meet a lot more people who want to do the good thing than the wrong thing, but if good intentions were enough to do the right thing, we would know about it. Also, whilst following the Zoe’s Ark affair in the media, I saw an incredible opportunity to give my films a certain accessibility without having to let go of complex issues.
With this film, you move away from the intimate sphere to tackle broader issues, most notably North-South relations.
But the issues are the same when it comes down to it. I’ve always thought that the first place you learn about democracy is at home. It’s at home and a person’s relationship to their family that makes them a democrat or a dictator. Here, the story is about people giving themselves the right to a family. The characters are preoccupied with their right to a child, as opposed to the rights of the child. And that’s the start of a dictatorial family. For me, starting a family by adopting in this way, disregarding the law on the protection of minors when a country prohibits international adoption and setting about lying as a result, is the way to start a family in dictatorship.
Your films show how tragedy happens so that people ask themselves why.
Yes, they show the mechanisms by which people stop being critical of something and start believing in it. It’s often said in the West that God is dead, which is probably just as well, but the danger then is that we end up believing too much in ourselves. Here we’re dealing with big narcissists, a guru. It’s like indoctrination. Following Jacques Arnault’s plan is about choosing simplistic solutions, all in the name of one thing: emotional dictatorship. It’s because of the initial emotion of the parents in distress, those without children, that Jacques Arnault realises there’s a way of putting this deal together.
You’ve also widened your cinematic scope; The White Knights is a sort of psychological adventure film
It’s a psychological thriller adventure, an action film. We lived and breathed it during filming. I wanted to make a group film, a sort of huis clos but outside. When the characters decide to take action you get a rush of adrenaline, but when they arrive on the ground things don’t go as they had hoped. When the children aren’t there, for example, they decide to put themselves in danger. I’m very proud to have found a subject that could bring me back to the things that concern me, my obsessions, whilst giving me an opportunity to explore new ground as a filmmaker.
Your cinematic creations are often fuelled by different news items.
I like how it feels to take risks. And the risk you take when you grab hold of a news item is that you’re telling a story that the viewer thinks they already know. Strangely, the two films based on news items that I’ve made are those that took the longest to write. Making a news story into a film is also a way of taking a step back from it. Media stories are caught up in current affairs, there’s no time to take a step back from them. I’m not aiming for the truth with my films, film in any form is a lie. Journalists report the facts with journalistic impartiality. Columnists comment on them. Artists make us think differently, invite us to think. None of these contradict one another, they complete one another. For the past few films I’ve done, I’ve felt like what I’m trying to do is unravel the figure of the saviour, the hero. It’s by no coincidence that I use these news items, I do it because they have a sense of excessiveness, transgression and silence about them that I want to unveil. This right that people give themselves to decide what is best for others.
(Translated from French)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.