Yvan Attal • Director of The Accusation
“Today, when you make a movie like this, you have to say clearly… certain things”
by Jan Lumholdt
- VENICE 2021: The French director faced several challenges while adapting Karine Tuil’s rape-case novel Les choses humaines, including a delicate scriptwriting process
While adapting Karine Tuil’s rape-case novel Les choses humaines, playing as The Accusation [+see also:
interview: Yvan Attal
film profile] out of competition at the 78th Venice International Film Festival, director Yvan Attal faced several challenges, including a delicate scriptwriting process and having to spend his evenings with two of his main actors.
Cineuropa: It’s now a little over 30 years since you got your 1989 César Award for Most Promising Actor in your first film, A World Without Pity. Did you have any directorial aspirations at that time?
Yvan Attal: What I remember the most is that I didn’t know if I wanted to be an actor or a director. And as I didn’t get into film school, I settled for acting. But after just a few films, I had practically gone through film school anyway. I didn’t leave the set; I stayed there all day and night to check how everything was done. I probably became a director because I was frustrated as an actor. When you like movies, you want to do everything. If I could, I would do the music for my films as well.
How did you work in order to adapt the novel by Karine Tuil – not least when condensing and keeping all the essential parts, including the main incident – in the most sensitive way?
It was difficult. First, we needed to turn the book into a working screenplay. I found this division into a “Him” story, a “Her” story and a trial story that felt very effective. More delicate, and more important, was to be neither black nor white, and not to betray the feminist cause. I knew that making a movie on this subject would be difficult because today, when you make a feature like this, you have to say clearly… certain things. What I liked in the book was that I could identify with both sides. I have a son and I have a daughter. If I were the parent of the son, I would say, “No. He couldn’t and didn’t do it.” If I were the parent of the daughter, I’d kill him. The facts are the same, but the truths are multiple and very different. The whole process was very moving for me, and the closer I got to the end, the more interesting it became.
You wrote the script together with Yaël Langmann, with whom you’ve collaborated several times. How did you divide the work, and how important was it to have a man and a woman sharing the writing duties on this film?
Even at the editing stage, I wanted a woman. I wanted to be surrounded by women because I’m a man and I needed their point of view. Also, I think I get along better with women in general. As for the division of the work, the main job was already done because we had the novel. Then, I decided to structure the movie the way it is, with a timeline and such. Yaël then helped to find the truth, the right rhythm and what to cut (or not) from the book. This time, we really discussed more than we wrote.
In the role of Alexandre, the accused, you cast your son Ben, and in the role of his mother Claire, you cast Charlotte Gainsbourg, your wife. Were they on your mind early on? And how easy or difficult was it for the three of you to co-exist “at work”?
As soon as I read the book, I saw Ben and Charlotte in front of me, in these parts. It wasn’t difficult for me, but perhaps it was for them, as they were suddenly treated as just “someone on set”. I’m not a very diplomatic director overall, but then I usually don’t have to spend the evening with my actors back home, as was the case here. Also, I know them so well that I can see in a split second if it’s real or fake in a scene. So I was probably a bit more demanding with them.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.