The most viewed French film of 2019, this drama carried by Guillaume Canet arrives in the clear this evening on France 2.
Premiere: After working as a journalist for France 3 and France 2 and then signing a documentary, what made you want to venture into the field of fiction?
Edward Bergeon: I had this desire for fiction for a long time. And then one day, producer Christophe Rossignon, also a farmer’s son, called me. He had seen my documentary Sons of the Earth. We had lunch together and very quickly the idea of a fiction came up. But he gave me time for this project to see the light of day. The time to get to know each other and especially the time to write. An essential time when you write a film about your life.
How did the writing ofAt name of the land ?
I first collaborated with a documentary filmmaker, Bruno Ulmer, who was able to put In the name of the earth on the right track, breathing life into the plot I had in mind. After 2 years, we arrived at a version of 200 pages. And Emmanuel Courcol, the screenwriter of Welcome, took over to tighten the plot and above all create the fictional thread that we were missing.
Is it complicated to talk about oneself and one’s loved ones without staying in between oneself?
I had already done a lot of resilience work around my father’s death with Sons of the Earth. This documentary was a real tidal wave in my life. After finishing it, I dropped everything, including my partner. It was in this desire to start from scratch that I approached Au nom de la terre, with a feeling of freedom further heightened by the fictional dimension. I had settled many things in relation to this painful past. And I ended up taking a huge foot
Once on set, did the memories of your own youth resurface?
You know, what we experienced in “real” life is much more tragic and violent than the film depicts. My grandfather behaved much worse with my father, our farm burned down twice, my father’s descent into hell lasted two and a half years… So, obviously, painful images come to the surface. But I was very lucky to shoot the film over two seasons. On the first part, I learned on the job, often making mistakes. But I tried to trust myself in particular on this very new exercise for me which represented the direction of actors. I had spent 15 years filming “real people”, so that taught me to read the truth of feelings. And I built on that experience with a story that I knew no one was going to know better than me. So I was just being myself and telling them how I felt. Then I edited this first part and partly rewrote the second, the densest, the most intense that we shot in winter. There, I was able to manage my set in peace and I took my foot there, freeing myself in a certain way from the ghosts of the past.
Speaking of actors, what prompted you to call on Guillaume Canet to play your father?
William had seen Sons of the Earth. And on the set of My boy of Christian Carion, he spoke about it to Christophe who produced it. He explained to her that he wanted to tell this story in fiction, to make his next film. Christophe then told him that I was already working on it and immediately Guillaume said he wanted to play the role of my father. We were then very early in the filming. And during these two years, I saw him slipping little by little into my father’s skin by feeding on photos, videos… His presence obviously allowed us to finance the film. But his earthly roots and his involvement above all took the film further with his energy. Looking back, I don’t see who else could have played my father.
What struck you the most in the way the public took hold of the film to make it one of the biggest French successes of 2019?
I was initially worried about whether the farmers were going to find their people there. And their first reactions reassured me. Then I have the feeling thatAt name of the land is at the crossroads of many societal debates, whether on ecological transition, global warming or junk food. And then there is this terrifying figure which is accelerating: a farmer commits suicide every day in France! But it is the farmers who fill our plate. And our plate is our health. We are finally starting to pay attention to it and this film has awakened many awarenesses that end up overtaking it. Our little family story ended up telling the great agricultural story and I am obviously very proud of it.
In the name of the land: Canet, great little peasant [Critique]