How do you personally survive tragedy, when it hits close to home?
It’s a question that has played in my mind over and over in the last few months. Each of us has a distinct and very human way of dealing with personal tragedy, and none of it is wrong or right, I’ve figured out. It just is.
Filmmaker Anaïs Volpé says that her way of coping with terrorist attacks, which have hit very close to home, literally for the Parisian, is to turn blood into glitter and imagine that the victims have gone to a better place. We hear that time and time again, “they have gone to a better place now,” but in Volpé’s exquisite ‘Indemnes’ (which translates to “Unharmed”) that better place is filled with color, beauty, peace and harmony. It’s a beautiful view into the afterlife, complete with stylish golden jackets, from an artist who has had her own creative style from the get-go.
As her producer Emilia Derou Bernal says about Volpé, “She is very special. Her art belongs only to her… She is unique and precious. I sincerely love to work with that rare pearl.”
Derou Bernal also plays Mandy in ‘Indemnes’ with a striking stage presence and a voice that stays with the viewer for days to come. The whole film actually occupies a very special place in my heart now, and I no longer see death and disaster as simply a tragedy, but also as a hopeful moving on. That’s some power of cinema right there!
Following is an interview that I conducted with both the filmmaker and her producer, via email. I’ll admit we have never met face to face, but I feel like we’ve all known each other for ages. You’ll see, the interview will make you experience the same feeling. These women need to be on your cinematic radar, you’ll hear about them often in the near future.
‘Indemnes’ premieres at IFFR on the 25th of January, but alas that screening is already sold out. There are indeed other chances throughout the festival to catch it, so check out this link for tickets and all info.
Personally, I love that you’re not afraid, Anaïs, of mixing such a serious theme of your film with a great, obvious love of fashion. And that wounds bleed glitter and in the Kingdom they wear gold jackets. Can you talk about the importance of the visual image in your work?
Anaïs Volpé: Thank a lot, I am glad if you appreciated it. In fact, I am so so sad and shocked every time I hear or I read that there is a new terrorist attack somewhere, everywhere in the world, that I always want to convince myself that victims are safe now, in a good place and that they didn’t suffer. It is, for me, a way to survive all this violence. That’s why I wanted, in this short film, to escape the violence (by replacing blood by glitter for example) like my brain does every time I see this kind of horrible news. It’s self-defense in a way, in order to face this reality. A violent and sad reality that I still don’t accept, don’t endorse. I suppose that glitters and gold jacket, here, are, in a certain way, my non-acceptance of this injustice and tragedy in the world. And also a way to assuage the anxiety of the situation, to spotlight the homage I want to pay to all the victims and to support all the families of the victims.
Emilia, how did you become involved in this project?
Emilia Derou Bernal: I discovered Anaïs's work on Facebook. I saw a one-minute video called 'Mars ou Twix’, I loved the title so I clicked on it. At the end of the video I was crying. It was powerful and unique. My Facebook page was full so I couldn't add her. I created a second Facebook page just to get in touch with her. She was my only friend on that page. So I wrote to her what an amazing director she was going to be. She was young and I wanted her to know that everything is possible when you have her creative power. I also said that I wanted to act in her next movie even if it was a one-minute film. So we started our collaboration and since then we did a feature together and a series and this short. For the feature, we had no money so she did everything by herself. The feature won the jury prize in Los Angeles, we went there and spent an amazing time. When we got back to France, no producers or distributors wanted to release the movie. So I created my company TERRITOIRE(S) FILM in order to release it on theaters. The movie stayed six months in theaters and went to more than 30 cities around France. After that great challenge I decided to invest the sales profits into another project with her. She kept the same team so here we go again!
Anaïs, where did the inspiration for your film come from? Can you disclose a bit of your secret without giving the subject of the film away?
Volpé: First, the inspiration for this film comes, sadly, by the news in the world. I was always very removed when I saw terrorist attacks and for sure I was very sad when it touched Paris, many times in 2015. I felt concerned, shocked, devasted for all this young people who died just because they were at a concert or at a bar, in a restaurant… It happened in my town and also in my area, in the bars I used to go. Also, I was close to people who lost people during the attacks. It has been a very bad time for all of us. I didn’t know what to do to support people who lost someone in this tragedy. I was speechless, because, honestly, I think we are not prepared for this. We don’t know what to do, what to say. The situation is bigger than us at this moment. There are no words. Secondly, I use my work to express myself all the time as an artist. And, as I said previously, I needed to transform this violence and this tragedy in something more peaceful, in something powerful, strong and beautiful — the qualities of the victims. I wanted to do a film in order to pay homage to the victims and to find a way to speak to the ones who lost someone in a terrorist attack, because I never found the words when I was near to them during the shock.
And finally, I have made this film to tell people who have lost someone, how I am here for them and… I tried my best to allow them to imagine their loved ones in a very safe place.
Emilia, as both the producer and an actress in ‘Indemnes’, how challenging was it to wear both of those hats, so to speak?
Derou Bernal: It is challenging because it is exhausting. You have two brains, the artist one and the CEO one. You switch from one to another so it is kind of schizophrenic. But at the end of the day you are in charge. As an actress-producer, you have no excuses: when you are lucky enough to work with such a director, the film has to be brilliant. The satisfying aspect is that you are no longer waiting for something or someone, you make things happen. If you are strong, you’ll make it. It depends only on you. You feel that nothing is impossible and it gives hope and positive mind for everything in your life. The most important things are to keep faith, integrity and caring.
Your film finds a way to explain the inexplicable. Anaïs how do you personally find such a positive message within tragedy?
Volpé: Maybe we need all the time to transcend tragedy, it is a way to survive? Art is made for this, I suppose. For me I use art for this, and as a self defense. The situation of losing someone in a terrorist attack is so horrible and sad and this sadness is so much bigger than us that I had no words for this. The only solution was maybe to do a film. This is my action into this tragedy. And I don’t think that’s enough.
And Emilia, do you have a similar outlook about life?
Derou Bernal: In order to survive the inexplicable you have no choice than to accept the darkness and embrace it. Then if you see life as a painting, each experience is a touch of color. Sometimes it is black or pink or gold. But each touch of color makes the painting more interesting, more complete. So your only perspective is to keep in mind that life can become shiny again. Not easy but life-saving. The best is yet to come.
How do you think social media helps in dealing with human tragedies and how does it hurt us?
Volpé: I think, like everything, there are good points and wrong limits by using social media in these kinds of tragedies.
First, the links that are created to find missing people is positive I think. They can communicate between them and create support between them easily.
But what I don’t like is the people who put horrible comments about the tragedy or to give their point of view about the situation at a very inappropriate moment. That’s the internet in general. Some people use it in a good way and others in a bad way.. .
Derou Bernal: Social media is a powerful tool. It can be deeply devastating on someone's life but also helpful.
It depends on your perspective. I believe that, used properly, it can help by giving a feeling of belonging, it can unify. Out of the trauma comes something of a catharsis.
But you need to be careful and understand that it is just a band-aid solution for a much bigger problem. Emotions and people are not real on social media, their lives are not real. We are not real... If you accept that, it is ok.
What is it like to premiere a film in IFFR?
Volpé: I am so happy because I really love and support IFFR. It’s one of my favourite festivals in the world. The advantages are big because there are a lot of people and a very good Marketplace over here. Also, I like the vision of the director of the festival, Bero Beyer. And I really appreciate how some programmers do their best to program films. I think for example of the programmer Leo Soesanto, who is always sensitive of the artistic vision. I like his vision too. I am so happy to be part of IFFR again this time with a short film.
Derou Bernal: We already premiered Anaïs’ feature film ‘HEIS: Chroniques’ at IFFR. It is one of my favorite festivals. You meet a lot of professionals at IFFR in an informal atmosphere. Movies selected are always extremely interesting.