In this return to Forbach, director Samuel Theis recounts the birth of desire in a child whose horizon seemed to be mapped.
As a 10-year-old, Johnny (Aliosha Reinert) has taken on the role of family man: his young mother is overwhelmed by her three children, her job and her love life. When he meets his new CM2 teacher (Antoine Reinartz), he glimpses the possibility of another world, far from his HLM residential area of Lorraine.
After party girl, filmed in Lorraine with his relatives, who told the story of his mother, Samuel Theis continues his autobiographical reflection by returning to his childhood in Forbach (Moselle) and his desire to leave his social environment. Once again, the director encourages non-professionals to play Johnny and his family, but places them in front of professional actors to embody the other place: Antoine Reinartz, discovered in 120 beats per minuteand Izia Higelin. Mix of Antoine Doisnel and the heroine of the magnificent Aquarium by Andréa Arnold, we are not ready to forget this young Johnny in search of himself and his interpreter, Aliosha Reinert. Meeting with director Samuel Theis and actor Antoine Reinartz.
Rue89 Strasbourg: Johnny’s character, played by Aliocha Reinert, has an early sensuality, it creates tension, sometimes discomfort. What made you tackle this topic?
Samel Theis: I relied on my own experience: I experienced this encounter with an adult who woke me up to a whole world. I wanted to talk about all facets of desire, desire is at no point reduced to a single definition: there can be an awakening to sexuality, but also an intellectual awakening. There is a libido of knowledge. The teacher played by Antoine (Reinartz) is also idealized by Johnny: he represents another possible life, he is a fantasized father, a projection of himself … In any case, his awakening to sensuality remains a mystery, there are several possible paths . This may come from facial expressions with his mother, but also from a desire to be watched. He sometimes seems to shout deep down: Look at me, save me!
Antoine Reinartz: It’s wild that it’s awkward when everything is in place. As soon as we touch on children’s sexuality, we feel in danger.
ST: Yes, but I like that we do not know where the danger comes from: it can come from the child, the teacher, the mother, the city …
YEARc: It is life threatening! And yet it makes us tense to be in this place.
ST : Children are explorers, fascinated by the adult world. We have often seen stories of predation told from the adult’s point of view. But the desire for children exists.
What were the difficulties of writing to talk about it?
ST: I thought a lot about my responsibility to write about a child and for the child who was to play this character. Metoo’s waves really acted as a bulwark and made me make the choices suggestions and restrictions. My personal story is not the same, but it is not always very interesting to remain true to reality.
You did not put the story in your own youth, but in Forbach today.
ST: Yes, I would like to portray a child of today, also of today’s school. This is my adult perspective on this story. I also did not want people to be able to say to themselves: oh yes, this situation was possible in the 80s, but not today.
“At that age there is no self-censorship”
Johnny is at odds with his social environment, one thinks of Édouard Louise’s career and books: was he a writer who could guide you?
ST: These are experiences we have in common: getting out of one’s state, with all that entails of betrayal, shame, anger. It’s a life’s job! You need to find your place, not everyone has a space problem. I read Edouard Louis with great interest and I built myself with these readings, I also think of Annie Ernaux and Didier Eribon. But Edouard Louis is a defector by exclusion. Rejection was not a lever for me: my family is extremely tolerant, bordering on indifference! I wanted to show the omnipotence, the purity of Johnny’s desires. At that age, there is no self-censorship, it is this innocence that I find beautiful.
Johnny in particular seems to be a bit the only one who has this rage, this life drive. His mother does not react when he becomes dismissive of his family.
ST: Yes, I think it reinforces the scene you are referring to: Johnny’s mother knows what he’s saying is true. In my opinion, in the working class there is very often a form of resignation, for acceptance of determinism. We know the sacrifice it takes to try to change things, not everyone is ready for it. She is also a young mother who raises her children alone and lacks experience. She is nonetheless very brave, she works and she does not forget herself, she continues to have a life for herself.
YEAR: In addition, she is at a time when she is trying to recreate something she is quite proud of.
The recordings were made with professional and non-professional actors. What has it brought you to play with non-professionals?
YEAR: Honestly, I was under pressure! I had seen party girl (first film by Samuel Theis starring his family and loved ones, Ed.) and I was very impressed. I am in favor of hyperrealism, I hate virtuoso exercises. I was necessarily afraid of seeming less credible. Afterwards, I was protected by the role as we are not from “the same world” so there may be a gap between us.
ST: I did not want a class struggle, but rather sought to soften this notion. There is a mutual fascination between them, they observe each other, steal things from each other, imitate each other … The film tells how these environments coexist.
“We enriched with improvisations”
What came out of it in the long run from the footage, from this meeting?
ST: In my work I like working in family and creating families. To me, Antoine has become a member of these cinema families, and it is obvious that we will continue to work together.
YEAR: I talked a lot with Aliocha (Reinert) about what it does to enter the world of cinema in this way. It’s unsettling to be very surrounded during filming, in very strong emotions, and then get out of it. We have to make do with this big 8.
What was the part of writing and improvisation in the sequences in class?
YEAR: All the scenes are written and it was necessary to start with this scene where we understand that Johnny has no dreams because he has not yet come across things that he could wish for. But we enriched them with improvisations. For example, for the row of European capitals, Antoine really taught the kids for 45 minutes, and on the set, the kids became students, Antoine managed them on her own.
It is rare to see the school well represented in the cinema, far from caricatures.
YEAR: It is true that in the cinema we often see a teacher being bullied or joked about teachers. We wanted to show what teaching is, to be able to explain what desire it could arouse. I immersed myself for two weeks with a class and its teacher, and I saw how much the teacher-student relationship had developed. These two weeks of preparation have restored my faith in humanity! I was keen to defend this way of teaching.
ST: When one has not called, one does not hold on, for honestly, at the moment, the state of National Education is not rosy. To me, it is these middle-class elements that hold society together. We have all met at least one teacher who has changed us. We do not use the word “master” at random …
Small type will be released on Wednesday, March 9, at the Star Cinema in Strasbourg.