Presented at the Cannes Film Festival 2021 and in theaters this week, Laura Wandel’s first magnificent feature film penetrates the world of childhood, damaged by school bullying. A little gem and a real slap to discover absolutely. Encounter.
School playground. A little girl cries at the thought of entering an unknown world. She clings to her older brother who is used to the place, imploring him not to leave her alone. Already the frame is as if on its knees, at the height of these two small beings with obvious complicity, whom we are going to follow as they enter this a priori protected space, within which the adult does not have (more) the right to return.
This overwhelming opening scene lays the foundations of what the sensitive Laura Wandel wants to paint for us, whom we met in Cannes in July 2021, in a small garden as isolated (but more secure! ) than the world apart that she describes in her film, “that of childhood and school in which the child discovers things for the first time, is confronted outside the family with a new microcosm and learns social codes. A moment when seeds are sown in us, reverberate later as adults and influence our behavior in society.”
Enclosed, reduced, violent space, at the height of children
A possible breeding ground for violence, the school is indeed this closed and reduced space which questions the “notion of territoriality which echoes the conflicts of the world in general”, in particular via the football field “which in Belgium takes up the majority of the space” and therefore confines those who do not play it.
Closed space, violent space, but also reduced space like the child’s vision of the world. The bias is clear for the director: never leave school, never enter the family universe and, in order to place the spectator in immersion and help him to remember the things experienced as children or by his children, never leaving the intense blue gaze of the film’s heroine, whose inner journey we follow. A point of view that often literally leaves adults who want to do well out of the picture, whether it’s the father (Karim Leklou, still as physical, intense and charismatic) or the teacher (Laura Verlinden with rare tenderness).
“There was really a desire not to pass judgment on the actions of adults who try to do as they can. But in all the mechanisms of violence, it’s difficult to pinpoint where it starts, the root of things. child who makes another suffer is himself suffering in a certain sense, he lacked listening and kindness and I tried to convey this, in particular with the director’s scene where we can feel that little Antoine’s father is not benevolent and that his violence does not come out of nowhere.”
While it underlines the characters’ impossibility of acting, the off-screen, on the other hand, makes the spectator more active, “physically, not only intellectually” according to the wishes of the filmmaker: indeed, during the 1h13 of film, we feel viscerally engaged alongside his moving heroes, embodied by two prodigious young actors that we will never have to take our eyes off.
Two endearing heroes, two actors to follow absolutely
Maya Vanderbeque and Gunter Duret: they were in Cannes that day, in front of us as intense as their characters, answering our questions with pleasure, frankly evoking their emotion in the face of the audience’s reactions during the day’s screening, happy to bring this subject of which -they reassure us when we ask them the question- “we talk the most at school, especially in class councils”. If Gunter has already played before, it is the first time for Maya who immediately impresses us with her commitment: “I knew as soon as I saw Laura that I wanted to be on this film, to be with her, and that’s why I told her ‘I will give everything for the film’, that is to say all my strength”, she tells us.
A force that bursts the screen, put at the service of an endearing character when he learns to decipher not the words as we do in first grade, but the behavior of those around him: “I wanted to show social learning more than the intellectual learning of subjects. Learning the relationship to thebe, which is done differently according to the two children”, acknowledges the director.
Indeed, “Abel is quite shy, he doesn’t want to make things worse. He can’t cope with the harassment he’s undergoing, and lives a real dilemma. In the meantime, he lets his sister Nora do his thing and stays behind. Nora, who is trying to protect her brother from the harassment he is undergoing, is looking for the right solution, as an adult should, alongside her teacher who is the only one to realize “, continue the children.
Finding the right gesture, the right way to help the Other… A very complicated question indeed, “a complex mechanism with different layers”, which beyond learning about violence also questions the transmission of benevolence. Benevolence which will pass here not by words but by the body because it is felt and transmitted without being said. At the heart of the film, is also played, it’s time to talk about it, the evolution of the privileged relationship or not between a big brother and his little sister, in full inner journey:
“Nora is very attached and thinks that her brother will help her integrate this community. She will realize the difficulties he is going through, he will try to protect her from this because he is ashamed and does not want her to sees in these difficulties, he wants to remain protective. At some point, he will become cumbersome for her in her need to integrate.” When her friends question the status of her unemployed father, or her victimized brother, the rejection born of “the need to correspond to the masses at the expense of one’s own identity”, summarizes Laura Wandel.
To illustrate the evolution of the feelings that animate the two children, a real scriptwriting find consists in bringing them together more disunited than ever under the lens of a photographer during the traditional class photo. At that moment, the smile is frozen, the latent conflict: “Nora feels violence and rejects her own rejection of violence on her brother who will tip his moment to him who is in the process of reintegrating. He himself will experience another violence, feeling that he can have a power on the other and will taste that power”.
A playful and
This exercise of power is played out in particular in a very difficult scene where the young boy expresses his rebellion as best he can. “It was not certain scenes that were difficult to do, but it was precisely the emotions to be played that were,” explains Gunter Duret, before detailing their work with a dedicated coach, Perrine Bigot, present during the interview alongside them: “a year before shooting, we worked in activity without having the script. We had to do something similar to what we had been told without thinking too much, but we had to remain spontaneous. For each scene, we were given the subject, the unfolding without detail and we did an improvisation”.
We started from one of the scenes, we explained the initial situation and we proposed to discuss what could happen, what we could say and we improvised around that at the level of their body and we drew it on a cardboard that became their visual scenario. At the time of filming, we brought out box 5, sequence 5 and we knew what the scene was made of”, details Laura Wandel. The important thing is to always keep an interest, fun and thus create emotion.
Anger, different forms of resistance, guilt, initiation into a world for which they do not yet have the weapons: the film brews with a great deal of emotion and a rare intelligence the war that is being played out in the eyes of a child, whose combat is important and to be accompanied. This week, in cinemas, discover this first film, favorite and punch of the Cannes Film Festival, which gave birth to a talent and above all a look; a new world, that of Laura Wandel, worthy heiress of Kiarostami or the Dardennes when it comes to portraying small pieces of humanity with elegance and purity….
In our Cannes podcast, we talked about Un Monde:
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