We Meet Laura Wandel a few days before Cannes Festival. The Belgian director presents her first long feature, Un Monde, at Un Certain Regard.
How do you feel just a few days before the festival? What is your state of mind?
A little stressed, I must admit, but very excited to finally show the film on the big screen. I think it will be an incredible experience; it's the first big cultural event after the pandemic, and I'm pleased to be a part of it. Especially in Un Certain Regard. I've learned a lot from these films that always offer a particular point of view, powerful directorial choices. Very happy and very excited.
You said to Cinevox a few years ago, "embarking on a feature film is like deciding to have a child. You never know if it's the right time. I'll start when I have something to tell". So what did you want to tell with Un Monde?
I wanted the viewer to have a cinematic experience. I wanted to tell the story of strength and resilience through the character of Nora, a child who goes to the same school as her older brother and finds herself confronted with the difficulties of harassment he encounters. She is torn between the need to integrate into this new community, her brother who asks her to keep silent, the desire to help him, and the adults expecting her to react.
I wanted the viewer to identify with this character because, at one point, I think we have all been confronted at school with integration difficulties. I hope that the spectator can recognise himself, as much as the child he was, as his own children. In any case, I think that it is a universal subject that will resonate.
Finally, we find the same pattern as in your previous short film, Les Corps étrangers: we followed a vulnerable person confronted with a specific form of violence in a very codified microcosm. Is this a desire on your part?
It's funny; I had never thought of that! I don't say to myself: "ah, I'm going to do the same thing as last time", but maybe there's something instinctive about it. Every filmmaker has leitmotifs that come back, and indeed, I notice that I often want to talk about helping others; how do we help others? So this topic often comes back. And microcosms also, it's true.
Your next film, Hors-la-loi, will take place in a hospital...
Indeed, I often start from a place when I begin writing. For Les Corps étrangers, it was the swimming pool; now we are in a school. And the next one will indeed take place in a hospital. I need to start from reality to create fiction. So I spend much time observing to feed the writing. For Un Monde too, I spent much time in Brussels schools.
How did the writing process go for Un Monde?
For me, writing has always been laborious. It takes much time; you have to accept that things don't come easily. You have to rewrite, let it rest, start again, see that it doesn't work, come back to the beginning again and again. It took me five years to write this script! It's a difficult path but at the same time very interesting! It's like being a gold seeker. You dig for a long time to finally find the gem or at least something that at some point reveals itself despite yourself.
Editing is the same thing. It is also a writing process, but there is a moment when the material reveals itself. Then, as if the film had its own logic, we have to catch that thing. And there is a moment when it happens. Always. I'm sure about it. But you have to accept that it takes much time, work, disappointment... That's how you get to the end of things.
The title has long been La Naissance des arbres, why did you change the title of the film?
I think that our entry into school shapes our way of being and seeing the world. I'm not saying it's the only factor, but it stays with us and sows like seeds. La Naissance des arbres comes from this idea that school roots us and that we will grow. I changed it because, even if the film is not wholly different from the script, it has evolved a lot, and this title no longer corresponds to the finished film.
And why "Un Monde" then?
First of all, I like that it's a very open title. It can refer to many things: the world of school, the world of childhood... Secondly, you will see that many things happen in the playground that I think is also happening in society. So it's also a reflection of the conflicts in the world in general.
How did you compose your cast for the film?
I very often work by flash. For adult actors, I never cast; I know that they are people I want to work with. Karim Leklou is perfect because he has ambivalence between his physique and the energy he gives off. He has something very soft and very hard at the same time. I needed that for the children's father. Laura Verlinden, on the other hand, is extremely sensitive and discreet. Perfect for the teacher, Madame Agnes, who has to be close to Nora's character. Laura Verlinden is one of a kind. I have rarely met anyone like that. She is extraordinary, and she has something that I have never seen in any other actor.
It's a 100% Belgian film, financed by Wallonia and Flanders, which I am incredibly proud of. So it was vital for me to represent these two communities in this school and have Laura, a Flemish actress.
Before we leave, could you tell us a bit more about your next project, Hors-la-Loi?
It's about a paediatrician in a hospital, but the project is in its early days; it will undoubtedly evolve.
Haven't you shot it yet?
No, I haven't. I received the writing help, but I don't have a script yet; it's still being processed.
Will we meet in 5 years for the end of the writing process then?
I hope to do it before then! (Laughs)
Find more information about Laura Wandel and Un Monde on Moonday !