Xavier Beauvois • Director of Drift Away
"Our house is on fire – our priority should be to save it"
- BERLINALE 2021: In his usual punchy fashion, the French director sheds light on his sensitive fiction film which treads the line between social realism and inner emotion
Well-received in competition at the 71st Berlinale, Drift Away [+see also:
interview: Xavier Beauvois
film profile] is the 8th feature film to come courtesy of Xavier Beauvois who has won two awards in Cannes (the Jury Prize in 1995 for Don't Forget You're Going to Die and the Grand Prize for Of Gods and Men [+see also:
interview: Xavier Beauvois
film profile] in 2010) and who has also appeared in competition twice in Venice (in 2000 and 2014).
Cineuropa: How did the film-puzzle Drift Away come about?
Xavier Beauvois: I live in the countryside, in a small village, and I’m very familiar with the gendarmes of Étretat. I’m interested in everything they do and I’m friends with some of them. I guess The Young Lieutenant [+see also:
film profile] wasn’t enough for me and I wanted to make another film about the police or the army. In fact, in a certain sense, a uniform offers a certain set-up in itself. I’d also read, in Society, a story about a farmer suffering from total burn out, who’d been shot by a gendarme, and it really shook me. There’s also the fact that I know a lot about what goes on in that area: it’s a bit of a Bermuda Triangle in terms of incest, and there are also lots of cases of people jumping to their deaths from the cliffs, at least twice a month, and five times recently, three of which happened on the same day! These are really significant things. I tried to bring these various understandings together and synthesise them, a bit like a dehumidifier which takes air and turns it into water.
The film’s storyline paints a very personal portrait.
Laurent is an extraordinary character to whom something extraordinary happens which causes him to take a good look at himself. Life can be turned upside down in a matter of seconds and we’re not left with much to hold onto. I’m quite an instinctive filmmaker, I don’t intellectualise. What I’m interested in is stripping things back more and more, making viewers feel emotions. When I go to the cinema, it’s to laugh, to cry.
You explore the daily lives of gendarmes in great detail.
I like the “fly on the wall” approach, where you try to make the audience feel that they’re in the room with the characters, and you bring them into the thick of it. There’s something documentary-like about it. But when you make a police documentary, you can’t show everything: you have to pixelate certain police officers and certain criminals. In my film, I can show exactly the same thing, but without hindrance.
The film also paints the portrait of a French society in distress and a world under threat. Is it a wake-up call?
It’s all true: farmers who only earn 350 euros a month, who work an unthinkable number of hours for a miserable wage, without having weekends or holidays, who shops buy a litre of milk from for 40 centimes, even though it costs 45 centimes to produce, and which Lactalis then sells to us for 85 centimes. It’s totally preposterous, absurd even! 3,000 farms are up for sale in France and one farmer commits suicide every day! We’re going to have real problems, but no-one cares! There are 340,000 police officers in France and 300,000 farmers, so there are more people policing us than feeding us: that says it all. There are fatal levels of political inaction. I feel like we’re thundering along at 200km/h towards a wall that’s only 200 metres away from us, and we’re dithering over whether to empty the ashtray or change the oil. There are real crises unfolding, and it’s not by spending billions on missions to Mars that we’re going to remedy them! Our house is on fire – our priority should be to save it, if we can and if it’s not too late.
This rather brutal form of realism doesn’t preclude a degree of romanticism, given that love is an integral part of Drift Away.
Romanticism in the true sense of the word. As Goethe said: "classicism is health, romanticism is sickness." Real romanticism is pretty brutal, it’s not a kiss at sunset. I try to summarise what I think and feel and to funnel it into a two-hour picture, which is stressful but which I enjoy; there’s a beautiful and an ugly side to it.
(Translated from French)
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