Fabienne Godet • Director of Our Wonderful Lives
"The film delves into the heart of intimacy, shame, and the knots that need untying in order to free oneself”
by Fabien Lemercier
- Fabienne Godet talks about the incredible process of creating Our Wonderful Lives, a remarkable film presented at Les Arcs and soon to be screened at Rotterdam
We met up with the French filmmaker Fabienne Godet at the 10th Les Arcs Film Festival to talk about Our Wonderful Lives [+see also:
interview: Fabienne Godet
film profile], her remarkable fourth feature after Burnt Out [+see also:
film profile], My Greatest Escape [+see also:
film profile] and A Place on Earth [+see also:
film profile]. A film that will make its international premiere at Rotterdam Film Festival (23 January to 3 February 2019) and is due to be released in France on 6 March by Memento Films Distribution.
Cineuropa: Where did the idea come from to set a fiction film in a rehab centre?
Fabienne Godet: While I was making My Greatest Escape, I had a friend whose brother was an addict and who wanted me to make a testimonial film about him, but he committed suicide very soon afterwards. Then, after shooting A Place on Earth, I wanted to make an intimate film so that I could focus on what I like doing best: working with actors. Our Wonderful Lives involved a crew of just nine people and 23 actors. In order to shoot with such a small team, you need to find a fairly unique subject matter. I knew that I had the subject matter, and I told myself I wasn’t going to make a documentary, choosing instead to make a fiction film about a rehab centre. Chance led me to Narcotiques Anonymes. I went to a meeting and started encountering a lot of people and collecting personal stories. In the end, Regis, who plays the therapist in my film, introduced me to Communauté d’Aubervilliers, which uses the American Minnesota method: total abstinence, no drugs and a very precise therapeutic approach. I immersed myself in the community and was afforded the opportunity to attend group therapy and film it. From there onwards, I wrote a plot summary and story, and suggested to Julie Moulier, who plays the main role in the film, that she co-write the script, so that she could really co-create her character. We also opted for closed casting (without going through agents) for the 14 other addicts and worked with the actors without a screenplay, choosing a precise plot summary, instead.
How did you shoot the film?
In the film, everything is true, and everything is false. Everything said in the film is true, there are no invented characters and every word comes from the testimonies I collected. Each actor was given a 30-page plot summary and a character sheet summarising his or her journey. I also gave them all snippets of interviews I’d recorded. We then organised a week of preparation a month and a half before we started shooting, so that the actors could get to know each other and equip themselves with specific group therapy language, as well as the centre rules, things that weren’t allowed, etc. I also asked them to write a song, without ever imagining that it would end up in the film. We also improvised around therapy: giving examples of demise of their past and the consequences it had. This allowed me to see if the actors had the ability to work with the little information they were given and fit well into the group. Filming involved three types of situation: written scenes, scenes that were totally improvised with a few minimal indications, and scenes during group therapy sessions where some actors had a text to work with, which they could rely on freely, and the other actors improvised around that. As nothing was planned out, it forced the actors to listen to each other constantly.
The film explores some rather difficult personal situations, but with a lot of modesty.
My goal was to explain how the therapeutic process works, how people progress mentally over the course of 12 weeks, from closure to openness, rebuilding relationships with others, and trust. I have been to some heartrending group therapy sessions, because there is a respect for other people's words and people from completely different social backgrounds really listen to each other. In the space of five minutes, people expose both their past and the problems they’re currently experiencing. The film delves into the heart of intimacy, shame, and the knots that need untying in order to free oneself from everything. This is the material that I wanted to reproduce: little moments in life, those that sometimes involve anger, laughter, tears, intensity, euphoria, moments of listening, solidarity. So there was no need to look any further afield or create drama.
(Translated from French)
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