Our Day Will Come - Romain Gavras interview
Provocative debut feature from director of MIA and Justice videos takes redhead theme
This article is from 2011.
From the stage of the Filmhouse on Friday night, Romain Gavras introduced the UK premiere of his debut feature film as a 'romantic comedy'. Those who have seen his controversial music video for MIA’s Born Free are not fooled. And shortly, that will include the rest of the audience too, because EIFF director James Mullighan explained how he programmed the music promo to precede the feature in order to highlight 'the director’s journey'. We’ll gloss over the fact that the EIFF programme credits the screening to Dazed and Confused, and that the director didn’t appear to want to show the music video at all. His promo for Justice’s Stress has been vetoed altogether and a sizeable gap between Born Free and the main feature insisted upon, so as to not overpower the slow burn start of the feature. It’s necessary too, if the atmosphere in the room when the nine-minute promo - featuring red-haired young men rounded up by a SWAT team, bussed out to the desert and forced to run through a minefield - is anything to go by. An hour an a half later, as the credits rolled on the main event Notre Jour Viendra (Our Day Will Come) Mullighan and Gavras prepared to deliver a Q&A session, an amused voice behind me says, 'I’m just curious how he’s going to explain all that.'
A few hours earlier, I had a chance to speak to the director and get his perspective face to face. 'People that find it offensive, I don’t know what to tell them. There’s two kinds of filmmakers. There’s the ones that want to please the largest audience possible and there’s the ones that are self-indulgent c*nts like me that don’t care about that.' He’s joking, but only half. Sitting with him in person, you begin to understand how his deadpan delivery coupled with a congenital blitheness makes him an easy man to misread. Later, at the post-premiere Q&A, he refers to his co-writer as 'a fat arab' (the context was their relation to the theme of bullying in the film) and the ripple of surprise that runs through the audience makes it clear not everybody appreciates the bluntness of his phrasing. Gavras is clearly not one to mince words, nor is he particularly bothered about making himself understood to those that don’t already speak his figurative language (his English is excellent). He doesn’t understand the hypocrisy in Born Free being banned from YouTube while footage of Saddam Hussein’s hanging remains. Cheerfully, he explains, 'I get way more offended by Rob Marshall films. Rob Marshall’s films rape my eyes. I saw Nine, I wanted to kill myself, kill the director and kill everybody that worked on that film.'
The notoriety he’s gained from the Born Free video, among others, is both a blessing and a curse. Coverage of Notre Jour Viendra has rarely failed to mention of it, because it’s his most famous work to date and because both make an absurd feature of redheads. It makes his transition from music video director to feature director (a path already trodden by David Fincher, Michel Gondry and countless others) all the more visible. But Gavras clearly understands the different requirements of the medium, 'In the videos, it’s like grabbing the attention of the viewer and keep it, keep it, keep it till the ending. There is a bit of provocation to provoke an emotion to the spectator.' Born Free is absurd, brutal and dryly funny, although MIA took most of the credit/flack for its provocative content. On stage at the Filmhouse, Gavras deadpans that she asked him to 'Make something that’s gonna fuck up my career really bad,' which perhaps in part explains why some critics saw in it a muddy, ‘political’ allegory, and an easy target. What hasn’t been totally clear until now is that the promo was shot after the film. Gavras told me, 'It could be in the future, it could be 20 years after the film. They manage to create their own country and take a lot of people to become rebellious.'
‘They’ is Patrick and Rémy, the mismatched leads of Notre Jour Viendra, a counsellor (Vincent Cassel) and an isolated youth (Olivier Bartelemy) who embark on an ever-escalating rampage, egging each other on while building a fractured political philosophy out of their shared red hair. Gavras explains, 'At first the idea was about freedom, and then we had this idea of two outcasts on an impossible quest, going nowhere. And then we decided to put them as redheads, to make them more kind of iconic, in the fact that they were more outcasts, more invisible.' Gavras concedes to my suggestion that Midnight Cowboy is an appropriate reference for the doomed buddy movie dynamic, but also suggests the inspiration of certain French movies of the 1970s, 'like Les Valseuses by Bertrand Blier.'
At one point (featured heavily in the trailers), Vincent Cassel’s Patrick delivers a key speech: 'My hair bothers you? I’ll let it grow. My exploits, my attitudes disturb you? Then I’ll intensify them. And when, under your torrential sarcasm, I remain indifferent before you, and I can finally be my true self, despite the disgust, despite the shame, despite all that, you will love me…for what I am.' The mock-seriousness of the moment encapsulates something of the feeling of the film and the protagonists’ stance. But it’s also, according to Gavras, filched from a speech associated with the Bush administration. 'I don’t know where I found it,' he explained, 'What I really like about it is it’s kind of poetry, but cheap poetry. It’s way more moving than if he was saying something really profound and beautiful.' Apparently a longer take where Patrick attributes the speech properly was cut, because the joke of it 'killed the emotion'.
Gavras struggled (or rather, didn’t) to explain the motivations for some of the choices he made in the making of the film – particularly the ambiguous ending ('In films, I kind of like open endings.'). On the incongruous appearance of an overweight redhead girl towards the end of the film, he says, 'At first, in the script, my co-writer, my producer, they were like, "Take it out, we don’t need her, why is she there?" I said, "I’ll find her and she’ll make sense." In the end, I spent time looking for little girls outside of schools and I found her and it made sense. They saw her and they were like, "Oh, OK, we can’t put it in words but we understand."' At the Q&A, he corrects James Mullighan, who quotes him as explaining that he chose redheads because they were 'funny looking'. Gavras says instead it was because they 'looked funny'. Similarly, the redhead girl made sense, 'because she’s amazing looking.'
When pressed on whether there is a prescribed meaning for his film (such as proved so tricky for critics to find in Born Free), Gavras demured. 'I think it’s better when people draw their own conclusion, especially with this film, because it’s not like one, straightforward message. The characters are confused, the storyline is confused, I’m confused, the film is confused.' When Mullighan suggests there are those who say Gavras inflames social tensions rather than documenting them, Gavras shrugs it off with the appropriate nonchalance and quips, 'It would be fucking cool if I had the power to start riots.'
Notre Jour Viendra deserves a wider cinema release, if the applause in the Filmhouse and my recommendation is anything to go by (although neither are a reliable guarantee of commercial success) and it’s a shame it’s not getting one. Next, before he returns to 'whoring myself out doing commercials' and writing his next film, Gavras is taking his film to the ICA in London for a short run before it’s released on DVD on August 22nd. I asked him, finally, if he had any plans to screen his film in Ireland, which features in his film as a fabled, idealised 'terre de rêve' for his ginger duo. He said no, unfortunately, but continued, 'At first we wanted to do the first screening for redheads, but apparently you can’t do it, it’s like racist or something. It would have been fun though.'