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Director Denis Imbert was in Aurillac for the “preview” of his latest film “sur les chemins noirs”, an adaptation of the eponymous story by Sylvain Tesson.
How did the director manage to penetrate the soul of the author of the book from which he was freely inspired? How does he see France and hyper-rurality? Why did you choose Jean Dujardin for the lead role? Interview with a man with earthly values and a free outlook.
La Voix du Cantal: Denis Imbert, your film “sur les chemins Noirs” tells the story of a broken man in the middle of a France crossed by the diagonal of the void. We talk about a stupid accident, a rupture in every sense of the word, necessary suffering, redemption. Do you think your film is an ode to courage?
Denis Imbert: “This term courage immediately refers to a somewhat extreme image, a will, a duty vis-à-vis oneself. What Pierre (Jean Dujardin) does is an inner journey. Sylvain Tesson’s story speaks rather of wandering energy, of movement, this movement which will trigger responses, solutions, in a kind of flamboyance. His withdrawal from civilization, his convalescence resonates as evidence. What I like is that there is no representation. Moreover, in this itinerary, if the character chooses the side roads, the dark paths, it is in all humility, it is very “normal”, there is no notion of adventure. You see, if during a dinner you say “I’m going to walk in Cantal”, at no time is there a notion of adventure. Whereas if you say “I am going to climb the Kilimanjaro “, we will immediately imagine the decor, the landscapes. Here is the particularity of “sur les chemins noirs”: Pierre makes an inner journey which immediately touches on the human. It is this relationship with oneself that touches me very strongly in the book, and now in my film.
For the needs of the film, I crossed France in the footsteps of Sylvain Tesson and I met the same people there. These encounters made possible because you are on a human scale, you are just an earthling”.
“I come from a rural area”
LVDC: Jean Dujardin calls the film “a fixed road movie”. “Road movie” for landscapes, encounters, paths. “Fixed” for introspection and “necessary sufferings”. The purity of the dialogues, the sincerity of the exchanges, the silences. Is it difficult to film authenticity?
DI: “In constructing the screenplay that I wrote with Diasteme, the idea was that the met look like everyday scenes, nothing much. From a scriptwriting and dramaturgical point of view, it’s fascinating. However, these little scenes had to bring a lot of information about the character, about his life, who he is, the way he looks, how he listens, what it reveals about itself, and it’s a very interesting articulation in writing.
What may have helped is that I come from a rural background, Limousin, where some of my cousins are farmers. When I was a child, I found their lives very romantic. I remember the harvest, the hay, the thresher, when we pulled out the tables for the people who came to help… Filming this truth in a hollow, it’s a little Proust madeleine that allows me today to go back. When I was young, I left my hometown of Limoges and I was a little ashamed of my origins. I arrived at dinners in Paris where I kept my origins secret. I said “I come from the provinces” with a slightly pointed accent. Now I’m part of the Paris Limousin Association, I help young Limousins settle down, I claim those roots, those angular, dark, frightening tentacles, that train that arrives late. And then these people who are caricatured in the cinema, I want to give them value again”.
LVDC: In your film we come across simple people, without history, without reason, without a cell phone, we walk in streets lined with “for sale” signs, we see medical deserts, can we see a political message there?
DI: “You know, this hyper-rurality, this gray zone of the maps, Sylvain Tesson has really crossed them. These dark paths he promised to walk while he was on his hospital bed after his fall. Seeing this map of the diagonal of the void, from the south-east of Mercantour to the north-west of Cotentin, he said to himself “I am going to go to the heart of these campaigns, I am going to go to this hell of Dante”. And there he saw the marvelous universe and the magnificent people.
In my film, for the scene in the village of Bourganeuf in Creuse, we didn’t have to paint the windows to write “for sale” on them, when Pierre takes this Stations of the Cross of closed shops, it’s really like that! Today in France, in a suburban commune, we spend an average of €10,000 per inhabitant, in a commune like Murat, we spend €100 per inhabitant, do you realize the difference? People are leaving cities because they can no longer afford to live there. I’m bruised. We are coming out of the elections and not a single candidate was at the heart of hyper-rurality, meeting people who live far from the cities. And then when I read “on the black paths”, we are in the post-Yellow Vests period. Of course it falls on me! So yes, this film has a political side”.
LVDC: “Sur les chemins noirs” revolves around a movie monster, Jean Dujardin, who naturally takes up all the space. Why him ?
DI: “This choice imposed itself on me. One day, Jean posts the cover of the book “Sur les chemins noirs” on Instagram. I saw this post while I was writing the movie adaptation. It turns out that we already knew each other with Jean. I sent him an SMS: “It’s amazing that you’re interested in this book, I’m also interested in it, I’m writing”. We talked, I sent him the script, he said to me “well, we’re going, aren’t we? “. In one week it was completed, the funding was there. When you follow in the footsteps of an actor like Jean Dujardin, the film industry follows. As for the rest of the casting, it was a cakewalk, the film was strong enough with a name like that of Jean Dujardin. Afterwards, it’s a “gang, crew” film. I sail and on a boat you can’t take just anyone. There were so many human and technical qualities to accompany me on this path that I went there with complete confidence”.
LVDC: You filmed Jean Dujardin with accuracy, strength and roughness, do you think you offered him one of his best roles?
DI: “What I know in any case is that I really wanted to film his soul, for the camera to be a kind of scanner. Jean says it’s a film “made on the bone”. It’s true that it’s a very minimalist film and I think that in this organization, the actor can shine, deep within him”.
Sur les chemins noirs (2023), by Denis Imbert with Jean Dujardin, Joséphine Japy, Jonathan Zaccaï, Izïa Higelin, Anny Duperey. In theaters March 22, 2023.
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