France’s journalism is one of stage production in which images of wars and humanitarian crises are used for their spectacular qualities to meet the expectations of thrill-seeking audiences. But when her fame catches up with her, she tries to find truth in a world of showbusiness in which she plays the role of both the victim and the director.
France-Amérique: Why did you choose a female character to embody the world of sensationalist journalism?
Bruno Dumont: Informing while entertaining is a contemporary subject that interests me, and filming a woman seemed relevant as there are so many famous female journalists nowadays. There are a lot of similarities between infotainment (in French, infodivertissement) and cinema, and I wanted to study them through the body and perspective of an actress.
France films her stories with a lot of subterfuge; everything is staged and she uses reality like the set of a play. What do you think is the difference between news footage and cinema in their relationship to the real world?
Throughout the film, cinema is able to capture reality in the grains of truth within fiction, whereas news is simply fiction. France is completely rooted in fiction, meaning that she is unable to portray reality because that isn’t her job. You can film reality without it being true, in the same way that France stages everything. She makes movies! The same thing applies to journalists: If you believe in truth, you’re already false. I am fascinated by this contradiction, as many media outlets strive to report on reality yet find themselves paradoxically faced with fiction.
There are two France: one of luxury, spectacle, and artifice, embodied by a celebrity (Léa Seydoux), and one of normal people and viewers (mostly played by non-actors). The two sides are incredibly codependent. Given the protagonist’s tragic fate, who do you think comes out on top?
France is profoundly unhappy and cries constantly. She is a woman lost in the media industry who becomes aware of the vacuity of what she is doing. The end of the movie sees her given the chance to actually exist and find truth within her profession. She leaves the facticity and unnecessary complexity of this world and finds fulfillment in the simplicity and truth of things that are all around her. This is a film about redemption.
In one scene, at a charity gala which France attends, a donor praises capitalism as a system of atonement and redemption. “To die well,” he says, “we have to die poor.” Is your film about learning to be a good person?
Being good comes through being humble. This is a personal question that appeals to us all. I am not condemning the upper classes, or the poor. Goodness is available to all and should be attained through the way we each live our lives.
Two of your movies have focused on Joan of Arc and you film Léa Seydoux’s face in the same way that Carl Theodor Dreyer filmed close-ups of his leading actress in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927). Why do you present France as the face of a martyr?
In film, everything is about overexpression and tragedy, in the same way that France is a melodramatic photo-story. Movies have to overrepresent our reality to enable us to access the messages they convey. This is what Dreyer does through his close-ups of Joan of Arc and the actress’s incredibly tender, dramatic performance, which is what makes the work so poignant. The function of cinema is to move us so that truth is revealed within ourselves. What counts the most is that this awakening occurs in our hearts when we are faced with a portrayal that saturates our mind and ultimately makes it overflow.