Lionel Baier • Director of Continental Drift (South)
“Europe can only function if there is desire between peoples”
- CANNES 2022: The Swiss filmmaker talks about the third part of his tetralogy on the construction of Europe
Swiss filmmaker Lionel Baier presented his latest film, Continental Drift (South) [+see also:
interview: Lionel Baier
film profile], in the Directors' Fortnight at the 75th Cannes Film Festival.
Cineuropa: This film is the third part of a tetralogy on the construction of Europe, after Stealth [+see also:
film profile] and Longwave [+see also:
interview: Lionel Baier
film profile]. How did you approach it?
Lionel Baier: The topic of migrants was interesting because I saw images on television, like everyone else. I was obviously shocked and surprised by what I was seeing, but even more by the reactions that we had, us Europeans. There is almost a strange pleasure in revealing our meanness and inability to welcome people. What does this crisis say about us; between our desire to want to help while receiving confirmation that it really is a disaster in the Mediterranean? We say to ourselves that we should do something. It feels like it's empathy for others, but maybe it's just self-loathing; "we're the bad people, consumers, Westerners, etc." So I went to see how the reception of migrants was organised and I was surprised by all the attractions around the camps: food trucks for people who came to take photos and selfies through the fence, cruises stopped to visit the outside of the camps, journalists from all over Europe were casting migrants by avoiding women who were too veiled, etc. So I wanted to show this reality by telling myself that it said something about us, about the relationship we have with foreigners.
Why did you set the film in Sicily?
It introduced the film to the history of Italian comedies which was a tone the film wanted to recapture. These very popular films of the 60s and 70s like those of Dino Risi were very political, as French films with Pierre Richard, with anti-system characters, dreamers, supporters of the return to ecology, “Gaston Lagaffe”s, precursors of many things.
To this backdrop, you’ve added a mother/son conflict which is also a conflict of generations.
I taught for a long time in a film school in Lausanne and in 2016, I started noticing that students, instead of making the long journey to Rome and Athens that we made in the 19th century to do our humanities, travelled all over Europe to help out for two or three weeks. I laughed at them a little, at this selective humanitarian work, these low-cost holidays in Calais or elsewhere. Then I said to myself that thinking like that was to be a bit of an old fart. Because if I was their age, I would do that. And at their age, we supported the abolition of apartheid, Hands Off My Friend (an anti-racist movement in France in the 1980s), etc. There was also naivety, beautiful naivety, and to tell young people that they are inconstant is bullshit, a condescending thing to do. So I wanted to present that, but also to show the people whom we blame, Frontex and the bureaucrats in Brussels. Because this bureaucracy, even though it is appalling when pushed to the extreme, is nevertheless an emanation of democracy. To get organised at 27, you need systems that produce a lot of paperwork but this still guarantees equity. European coastguards, for example, often come from immigrant families. So I wanted the film to show both sides. And sometimes when the son and the mother are arguing, I agree with both: with him when he says "you are incompetents just here to count the dead" and with her when she retorts "if we are no longer there, it is the fascists who land".
Is it also an intimate conflict within a man; a son who was abandoned at a young age by a mother who left to live her life as a woman who loves women?
Sexuality and intimacy are also always very political. We are never one thing but several things at the same time. It shows the loneliness of this woman and there was also the idea of the Franco-German couple, the famous Franco-German driving force that we often talk about. It made me laugh that it was two lesbians and that they often didn’t understand each other’s desires; the Frenchwoman would want to make love in the bathroom and the German woman would stop her by saying that you have to be unreasonable within reason. The Frenchwoman tells her that it does not mean anything and that there lies the tragedy because Europe can only work if there is desire between the peoples. We can create all the political structures we want: if people don't want to be together, we don't exist.
(Translated from French by Margaux Comte)
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