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CANNES 2021 Competition

Joachim Lafosse • Director of The Restless

“The illness takes so much space in their relationship that they forget themselves in it”

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- CANNES 2021: The Belgian director tells us about his universal and heartbreaking reflection on the question of breakdown within the relationship

Joachim Lafosse  • Director of The Restless
(© Kris Dewitte)

We met with Joachim Lafosse, selected in competition at the 74th Cannes Film Festival with The Restless [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Joachim Lafosse
film profile
]
, starring Damien Bonnard and Leïla Bekhti, a universal and heartbreaking reflection on the question of breakdown in the couple.

Cineuropa: What are the origins of the project?
Joachim Lafosse: Already in film school, I had written a one-page synopsis that looked a lot like the script for The Restless. At the time, I wanted it to be a documentary, to find families and couples who had been in this situation. Following the disappointment that represented for me my previous film, Keep Going [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Joachim Lafosse
film profile
]
, I wanted to centre everything again, to come back to different, more intimate things. So everything (re)started when I met my new producers, Anton Iffland Stettner and Eva Kuperman (Stenola Productions), who took the time to listen to me. The need to take the time to write, to work with people who are ready to take this time. This calm, this tranquility were absolutely necessary to make a film that in fact describes the total absence of calm.

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A few words on the writing process, is it collaborative work?
I started writing the film with Juliette Goudot. I put down at that point what wasn’t quite yet a script, but rather a story, which was very autobiographical. Then I picked up the project again with Anne-Lise Morin, we started to really turn it into a script. François Pirot took over, then Chloé Leonil and Lou du Pontavice arrived. But I also wrote this film with Damien Bonnard and Leïla Bekhti. The film was written very intuitively, feeding on the work with the actors. During rehearsals, I felt that the whole autobiographical dimension was fading away. It happened when I saw Damien and Leïla seize the film, and where they took it, very fortunately, elsewhere than my little story.

More than bipolarity, the film is about breakdown within the couple?
Exactly, for me, bipolarity isn’t the topic of the film. We’ve held a few screenings and many people come to tell me that they saw themselves in the film, one because her husband was an alcoholic, another because his wife had cancer. I am not bipolar, but as an adult, I have felt that I was faltering too, that I was at fault, that I was the one who was losing it. What do we do then? Are we ashamed, afraid, do we run away and destroy everything, or do we try to take responsibility and be part of the solution to the problem by letting the other decide, without looking for a culprit? I think everyone can have gone through this. As soon as we embark on a romantic relationship, we can be almost certain that there will be a faltering, because the other person never resembles what we were expecting. For me, the relationships that last are the ones where the couples have survived a moment like this one. This is where the real romantic encounter is. What I tried to film is that moment when we understand that the other person will not be where we expect them to. In those moments, what do we do? Do we break up or continue?

Leïla also wonders whether she can be several people at once in the relationship, the wife, the mother, the nurse, the guard…
I don’t think she can be all that… She expresses it, actually, she tells him that he doesn’t look at her anymore. What she wants to tell him is that she is no longer his wife, she’s no longer his lover. The illness takes so much space in their relationship that they forget themselves in it, and not only Damien, Leïla as well. What appeases me most with this film is that I have managed to make the male character – with whom I identify – say: “I have my share of responsibility, and I need to be careful, if there’s an outburst, it will be my fault, but I can’t be someone else.” And it takes strength to admit to that responsibility and free the other person. Because when the other leaves, we can crumble, tell ourselves we are unlovable. But if we crumble when the other leaves, there’s another problem.

What does this selection in the Cannes competition signify, is it an ultimate consecration?
Yes, of course! But what surprises me is that now, everyone asks me about the prizes, as if being in competition wasn’t good enough. The pressure never stops, it seems…

Your projects?
I’ve been preparing Le Fils de la loi with Thomas Van Zuylen for a long time. I just took it up again in co-writing with Sarah Chiche, Camille Kouchner and Pablo Guarise. The film revolves around the question of the reasons for the silence in incestuous situations.

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(Translated from French)

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