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CANNES 2021 Cannes Premiere

Samuel Benchetrit • Director of Love Songs for Tough Guys

“I think when we are in love, we go back to being children, we are vulnerable and insecure”


- CANNES 2021: The French filmmaker has presented his new tragicomedy starring a series of notable actors from France and Belgium

Samuel Benchetrit • Director of Love Songs for Tough Guys
(© Kenzo Tribouillard)

Love Songs for Tough Guys [+see also:
film review
interview: Samuel Benchetrit
film profile
is not a typical love story. In his new film presented in the new Cannes Premiere section of the Cannes Film Festival, French author and director Samuel Benchetrit presents a series of characters in the midst of identity crises. They try to find their own ways to communicate with one another about their feelings, sometimes using poetry, the help of a self-help book about karma, or through violence. Among the cast are François Damiens, Bouli Lanners, Gustave Kervern, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi and Vanessa Paradis, all of them delivering outstanding, sometimes unusual performances. We talked to the director about his inspiration for the story and the characters, as well as about his relationship with the actors.

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Cineuropa: Were you inspired by specific events or persons?
Samuel Benchetrit: First of all, I wanted to make a love story, and I also was inspired by my father’s friends. He was a factory worker and so were they. All of them were strong, big men, living mostly in public housing, and they had hard lives. But we often went on vacation all together and there, I saw how delicate and kind they were to their wives and children. This impressed me very much. I wanted to make a film about these kinds of people.

One of the topics of the film is the difficulty we often have to communicate with others.
Yes, it's especially true when it comes to love. I think when we are in love, we go back to being children, we are vulnerable and insecure.

How did you put the cast together? Did you have some of them in mind even before writing the script?
All of them are friends of mine. I had already worked with some in the past, and not yet with others. In the process of writing the script, I thought of some of them and adapted the characters. It was not always easy to work with all of them together. At times I had the impression I had to tame a group of big children, children in the bodies of adults. The attribution of some roles changed during the process. For example, the role Gustave Kervern finally played was first meant for Bouli Lanners. But I thought it would be interesting to have someone more shy to play it. At first, Gustave was hesitant, but I think it works just perfectly that a big guy like him is forced into romanticism.

Also for Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, you chose a character that is quite different from her usual repertoire...
Yes, she almost doesn't talk. She liked that very much and I know that a lot of actors actually are very keen to play roles with little text.

You seem to like the non-location, places that do not seduce by their natural beauty...
I like humble places and humble people. I search for them and like to force the viewer to participate and to discover the beauty of each of the locations in the course of the film.

One could say that your sense of humour and your approach are not typically French, but rather closer to the Belgian way. Would you say that this could penalise you on the French market?
I am not sure. I know that this is how I want to do films. I often work with Belgian producers and Belgian actors. I like very much the modesty, but also the pride and the heartiness of the Belgians.

Would you say that you are a melancholic character?
I guess so, yes. But it's a dreamt melancholy, a melancholy on something that doesn't really exist. And I am also melancholic thinking about what the future will bring us, rather than turned to the past.

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