Robert Guédiguian • Director of Gloria Mundi
“I don’t judge my characters; I judge the society that produces them”
by Marta Bałaga
- VENICE 2019: Two years after The House by the Sea, Cineuropa reunites with French filmmaker Robert Guédiguian at Venice to discuss Gloria Mundi
Once again aided by his favourite actors, including wife Ariane Ascaride, who was awarded the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival, in Gloria Mundi [+see also:
interview: Robert Guédiguian
film profile], Robert Guédiguian delivers a grimmer-than-usual take on family bonds, tested by constant financial struggles and the sudden return of an ex-convict into its midst. He also hints at the current political unrest somewhere along the way.
Cineuropa: Why did you decide to talk about a family that’s dealing with financial issues? Throughout the whole film, they are talking about money, worrying about it – it’s always on their minds.
Robert Guédiguian: I believe that precarious lifestyle is becoming more and more prevalent, at least in France, where I live. People constantly worry about their jobs, and they don’t go to vote any more. The outskirts and the suburbs are becoming more and more detached. These people are completely cut off, with their main concern being how to make ends meet.
It feels like war sometimes, with each of us against all the others. There is no solidarity any more, no brotherhood, and even family ties suffer because people tend to compete so much – just like in the film. Global capitalism makes us all very selfish and narcissistic. The only solution to how to survive is very individual, as this idea of being part of a community or a collective group is no longer valid. It’s everyone for themselves.
In Gloria Mundi, Gérard Meylan plays an ex-convict who finds a surprising refuge in poetry. Where did all of these haikus come from?
I just love them. They condense, in very few words, all of these feelings you might have. I thought it would be appropriate for a self-taught man, who over the years has read a few books in his cell, to find this form of self-expression. It’s much more likely to happen than him writing a 400-page-long novel all of a sudden. He has this small notebook that he carries around, and just writes down two or three sentences. Daniel is someone who distances himself from the world, you know? After spending all this time behind bars, he becomes an angel, in a way.
The title is a reference to Christianity [with sic transit gloria mundi being uttered during the coronation of a new Pope], and this is something that can be found in a lot of your films, actually. Why? I don’t think you are a believer yourself.
No, I don’t believe in God. I am an atheist and a freethinker. But I do have this idea of transcendence rooted in my mind. I am aware of the people who lived before, and I have an idea of what is sacred, what the myths and the legends are, and how important they can be in our lives. My story takes place in a contemporary time, and we see people struggling to survive. But there is always one character that hints at this holiness or sacred spirit of the human experience. I believe that all human beings have this connection to mystery and sacredness, so it’s also present in my films. As is classical music, which gives a universal value to the stories. It belongs to all times and all places, and it creates the right distance. It creates what Brecht used to call the effet d'étrangeté, the distancing effect. Sometimes we need to be far away in order to reason with our intelligence and be touched by what we see.
A woman telling another to remove her hijab, an Uber driver beaten up by taxi drivers – these are all very current topics you are dealing with here. But it’s quite telling that the “yellow vests” didn’t get the kind of support one could have expected in 1968, when everyone was on the streets with the workers. What changed?
These are some elements that are very present in our society, at least in my country. With Uber, it’s connected to the idea of being self-employed and independent, for example, which is a feature of our time, one could say. Back then, in 1968, they had the support of the left-wing party, the communist party, and trade unions. There was unity within all of these different currents, which managed to find a place where they could all meet. Today, this place no longer exists. This is why there was no support. Some intellectuals signed a petition, but this support did not turn into proper political action, and what was a rebellion didn’t transform into a revolution.
Is it fair to say that you seem to be a little less optimistic this time?
We were fully aware that we needed to love these characters, even though they don’t do very nice things. Last night, I was watching the film and realised that some of the things said here are just terrible, but they don’t mean them. It was important to understand their motives and reasons. Why do they behave this way? And even if we didn’t make them nice, exactly, then at least we wanted to let the audience sympathise with them. We didn’t want to judge them. What we judge is the society that produces individuals like them. It’s not their fault.
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