Teddy Lussi-Modeste • Director
"The enemy had to be as close as possible to the hero"
by Fabien Lemercier
- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2017: French filmmaker Teddy Lussi-Modeste talks about second feature film The Price of Success, presented at Toronto, and now competing in San Sebastian's New Directors section
After debuting in 2011 with avec Jimmy Rivière [+see also:
interview: Teddy Lussi-Modeste
film profile], Teddy Lussi-Modeste is back with The Price of Success [+see also:
interview: Teddy Lussi-Modeste
film profile]. In cinemas in France since 30 August, the film starring Tahar Rahim, Roschdy Zem and Maïwenn is premiering internationally today at the 42nd Toronto International Film Festival (7 to 17 September) in the Special Presentation section.
Cineuropa: What attracted you in this idea of a young artist, nouveau riche from a humble background, trying to escape the “blackmail” of his family?
Teddy Lussi-Modeste: Family is a place where there is a lot of love, but also a lot of danger. I wanted to showcase this ambivalence by telling “the story of a young man who makes it and who is then blackmailed by his family”, and when I say “blackmail” I mean both the physical and emotional aspects of it. This sentence was paramount throughout the writing of the film. Rebecca Zlotowski, my co-script writer, and I first looked to see if this intuitive subject made sense in real life. We studied the journeys of different people who have made it in acting, singing, sport, and even more private professions like law and medicine. It was always the same story: The entourage included an adversary, an enemy or someone who posed a problem. Success is something that is experienced by the person who succeeds, but also by his entourage, who want to enjoy the fruits of his success. This is an issue that cinema has not really dealt with I think, and the film allowed me to visit something very contemporary through an almost universal tale that we can trace back all the way to Cain and Abel.
To a certain extent, The Price of Success is in the same line as your first feature film Jimmy Rivière, with a protagonist whose personal growth is stunted by his family.
Yes. Both films are very different in how they are made and shot, but in terms of subject matter, they are similar. It is the story of someone who wants to succeed and family in The Price of Success and society in Jimmy Rivière, with their rules and this ambivalence between love and violence, hinder them, constraint them, stand in their way.
The intrigue focuses around an almost fratricidal struggle between Brahim and Mourad, where the former has to practically cut off from his brother to be able to grow.
The idea was that the enemy had to be as close as possible to the hero. I had no interest in making a film where the bad guys were strangers to the family, but, in fact, were part of the family. This fraternal situation was the best way to remain as close as possible to the heart of the film. There is also the idea of one person succeeding and the other picking up the crumbs of the person in the limelight. There is this very contemporary idea of being in the wake of someone famous to have a bit of their glow rub off, to be able to profit from it. Therefore, the challenge of the very first scene of the film, where Brahim is taken aside by a character called “the unfortunate one” who wants to take a video, was to show that he did not really want to record a bit of the Brahim’s talent for himself, but simply wanted to bask in his limelight for a little bit.
The film also delves into a sort of portrait of an artist, with his creative doubts and issues with his management. To what extent did you want to deal with what happens behind the scenes?
I felt that the character had to face an artistic crisis. This stage in the second performance is the most difficult to write because you give it your all in the first, while the second is just work. Brahim is at a point in his life where he is looking to recast himself, to recreate himself, and to do this, he needs to break away from the old way of working, from his brother, that is, get away from him and surround himself with a new team. We therefore took the story in this direction.
Looking at the rhythm sustained by the film with its ellipses. What were you intentions?
This speed stems from the way I worked with Rebecca on the writing. We took years to write Jimmy Rivière and this time we decided to write quickly, even more so because I had not shot for a long time as it was difficult for me to get back to it after my first film was rejected by my own gypsy community. This feeling of being betrayal, the guilt, therefore came out in this film. The initial idea of the film, the sentence I mentioned earlier, is a simple situation that was only needed to start off the film, separating every stage with very strong ellipses.
How did you find this move to a totally different level with the casting of actors like Tahar Rahim, Roschdy Zem and Maïwenn?
I still feel the same anxiety when directing an actor, professional or amateur. It is always the same kind of reflection to co-create the character. But for this film, choosing more “successful” actors was a choice that went with the fable to success, toward the literary. It was interesting to have actors who have themselves experienced the issues raised by the film: success, entourage, family, relationships with others that change with your success.
(Translated from French)
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