Offspring of a barbaric alliance and a disappointed romance, Ludovic, a child hated by his overly young mother - Nicole - and his grandparents, spends his early years hidden in an attic. Things don't really get any better after Nicole's gloomy marriage to Micho, a decent and rich mechanic who tries to protect Ludovic. Haunted by her lost love, sinking into alcoholism and scorning her husband, the young woman has her son shut away in a home for the mentally retarded. But Ludovic is far from being the idiot that people suppose him to be. He keeps dreaming of his mother whom he adores as much as he dreads her. His only goal: finding her. Fleeing one Christmas Eve, he finds refuge on a washed-up wreck and writes passionate letters to his mother that she doesn't reply to at first. Until the day Nicole and her son reunite in a poignant and magnificent moment of mutual recognition.

Images du film



interview de Marion Hansel concernant les noces barbares-646

Les Noces Barbares is your third film and your third adaptation. What attracted you to Yann Queffelec’s novel ? It […]

interview de Marion Hansel concernant les noces barbares-646

Les Noces Barbares is your third film and your third adaptation. What attracted you to Yann Queffelec's novel ?

It deals with evil and the lack of love, a situation that I find difficult to bear. When I come across it, I want to talk about it to bring such things out into the open and make people realize that they simply shouldn't exist. Some people are trapped in an emotional injustice that ruins their lives. It's the subject of all my films. In Le Lit, there is a lot of love but it is destroyed by death. In Dust, you have frustration and a need for affection between a daughter and her father. Yann Queffelec's novel offered me a situation that was both similar and different. I tackled this theme as a happy, fulfilled and loved woman and it's perhaps because I have all that that I can't bear the idea of anyone lacking it. I can't stand the idea that others have received less than me…

One adaptation can differ from another. Did Yann Queffelec's novel contain any surprises for you ?

This was the first time that I was dealing with such an important novel whose story takes place over so many years. I chose to retain the whole story, even if that raised the problem of having two actors to play one character: Ludo as a child and as an adult. I sensed that Ludo's childhood was the moment that could reveal the suffering and pain of his mother Nicole, a victim who creates another victim. I don't like to work against my characters. Any sympathy and understanding for Nicole would come from seeing her crushed. In my film, the story is no longer chronological as in the novel. If I had started with the origin of the tragedy, the rape, the initial issue was so strong that I wouldn't have been able to keep the tension at such a high level. There was no possible crescendo after that. I decided to arrange the story differently. I work on my screenplays a great deal. There were five drafts of Les Noces barbares. I wrote the first three alone. Yann Queffelec would send me his comments. At this stage in my work, François Verny from Gallimard told me that I was much too respectful of the text, that I had to forget it, that an adaptation has nothing to do with a novel. He was right: a screenplay isn't literature and has a totally different rhythm. I constructed my film as a flashback. I reduced 100 pages of the book - the asylum - to 8 minutes of screen time. I eliminated certain characters to allow Nicole the possibility to be understood and accepted by the audience. I didn't want her to be seen as an unnatural mother or a hateful woman but as someone who deserves a great deal of compassion, a young woman who has been broken and shattered. She is as pitiable and lost as her son, Ludo.

Nicole doesn't change physically despite the years ?

That's a deliberate bias. I didn't want two actresses. I wanted someone with a very sensual and immediate physique. Marianne Basler was the only one to be such an obvious possibility. There are plenty of good actresses out there but some were too fragile while others were too sophisticated or too Parisian. You have to remember that this woman is the daughter of a baker from the depths of France where woman are sturdy and strong. Her sensuality is earthy and obvious, not the constructed sensuality of a super-model. Perhaps Nastassja Kinski could have played the part but her involvement would have implied a different budget and a different cast. I had seen Marianne in Rosa La Rose and I had found her frothy, redheaded and magnificent, with a precise and varied register. She could make a GI fall for her and fascinate a child who wants to be proud of his mother. I am very happy to have been able to work with this young actress who has surprising physical and emotional range.

Having two actors to play Ludo must have created a few problems ?

Yes. I first chose Thierry Frémont. I felt he was the obvious choice to me. In his movements - the way he ate, walked and moved - I immediately saw that he would be Ludo. The child playing the same character in his youth had to have red hair and green eyes like him. My assistant, Gerda Giddens, saw 100 little boys. Yves Cotton immediately stood out. It was his first ever role. He's an amazing child, both a hard worker and an intuitive actor. As soon as he knew that he had been chosen, he learnt the screenplay by heart. I was worried that he would become a sort of "performing monkey". I asked his parents to take the screenplay away from him so that he would have time to forget it and retain all his spontaneity. On the set, trusting in his attention and memory, I would remind him of his lines 5 minutes before he was due to speak them. He was perfect. Yves Cotton is nothing like Ludo in real life. He's a child who plays Ludo as any professional actor would. Before I'd shout "Action", he was happy, talkative and playful. As soon as we started shooting, he became what the role required: a sad, withdrawn and worried little boy.

Directing a child isn't easy...

That's what people say but I was working with someone exceptional here. He approached the whole thing as a game. He understood that his mother in the film was unhappy and that he had to love her. His reaction and personality have marked a number of sequences. It amused him to choose the consistency of what he had to sniff when they buy his face in his excrement: it's chocolate mousse! So that was an easy scene to shoot and we had fun, despite its dramatic intensity. He was able to memorize eight to ten different gestures for a single scene. Thanks to his skill with his hands, the scene with the suction cups was never a problem. The one with the bowl where he puts his lips on the marks of his mother's lipstick was a little more problematic. He didn't understand what it meant. We cheated a little.

Setting up a film after winning a Silver Lion at Venice must be easier ?

Barely a year has passed between the acquisition of the rights and the completed film. That's a record. My private and public partners immediately gave the go-ahead. In Belgium, the box-office from Dust allowed me to obtain distribution advances easily. In France, Yann Queffelec's Goncourt Prize was my main asset.

Where did you film Les Noces barbares ?

I used the idea of the novel: the Charentes region. I was won over by the light, a light at the edge of the ocean or an estuary with its amazing reverberation. The horizon looks a lot like the flat land that I come from. It isn't the Escaut, it's the Gironde, but the two are similar. For some reason, this area has rarely been seen on the big screen. I made the most of that. It was a first, with shooting conditions that unite a crew. To the south, you have Médoc wine, to the north, the oyster beds and cheap hotels for everyone!

Does this film mark an evolution in your work in any way ?

It meant attempting to work with 10 to 15 sets, 10 to 15 actors, and so abandon closed worlds. It isn't quite a saga. But I would have had the impression that I was in a bit of rut if I hadn't gone beyond the enclosed worlds of my last two films. I'm not rejecting such worlds - I know that one day, when the time is right, I'd like to film François Weyergans' novel Macaire le copte but, before that, I want to film on a broader canvas, "western" style! I am now seeking out wider horizons, like those of Antonine Maillet's Pélagie la charette. Unfortunately, the rights are already taken. In addition, thanks to the Silver Lion at Venice, I had more money. I was able to work with a dolly, in other words a camera on a crane with a counterweight that can rise up to 4 metres above the ground, turn to the left and right, do a full circle and pan over a horizon or the façade of a building. That's what allowed me to shoot the opening shots, to avoid high and low angles while covering the most space possible. I learned a lot by using it, just as I was very happy to be working in Cinemascope, along with the rest of my crew. Walter Van den Ende had never used it before. It's a totally different format that requires a different style of direction. Over the first two weeks of the shoot, we were all dismayed. The first dailies were full of mistakes. We had to alter the habits that we had acquired in working with 35 mm stock. Cinemascope has no depth of field but requires you to fill the space. If you place an actor in the foreground, you have to fill the empty space around him with a set that is hazy but which has to be filled with a background that appears as spots of colour. Cinemascope allows you to line up 5 or 6 characters together. But that wasn't what interested me. I preferred to play with the sets and space, to occupy the frame. It was an amazing discovery for us.

Did you work with the same crew as for your previous films ?

Yes, that's vital. I think that with Les Noces barbares, I have consciously or unconsciously completed a trilogy, made with the director of photography, Walter Van den Ende, the sound engineer, Henri Morelle and the chief editor, Suzy Rossberg. We know each other well. There's no need for any process of seduction between us. We know our tics, manias and limits. It creates a wonderful complicity. This time, we discovered Cinemascope together. For my fourth film, perhaps I shall need to fight again, to seduce and be seduced differently. I can't see making a film without that trio but perhaps, for a while, I may distance myself from them in order to make our reunion even more powerful on a subsequent project.

There are some new arrivals: Henri Colpi and Fredy De Vreese. ? They are part of the adventure and seduction necessary with each film. You have to surround yourself with people who urge you to go that little bit further. Colpi is a monument in film terms. He knows everything but he listens, he is available. He is exceptionally human. I actually felt that he was younger than me. He listens to everything: young people, the street, sounds, colours. As for the use of music, this was a first for me. There was a score composed for Dust but I didn't use it. Even so, without being a musician, I love music. And I love music in other people's films. In mine, I'm wary of overloading them on an emotional level. But this time, with Queffelec's novel written without any hidden meanings, I didn't want any distance in my direction. I sensed that I needed to accept the idea of music. Fredy De Vreese understood my needs and my fears perfectly. He has composed an amazingly fragile score (and that's a compliment) that accompanies Ludo and Nicole in their own fragility. For each of them, he has developed a totally apt theme. My only regret is that I brought him in after we'd finished shooting… Next time, I'll move faster and go further.

So what is the next time ? A TV film with the Dutch and, in another couple of years, another feature film. Which one?

I don't know yet.