Jérémie Elkaïm “I put off the moment of becoming a director for a long time”

With They are alive, he signs a very fine debut as a filmmaker by telling a love story between the widow of a policeman who sympathizes with the FN and an illegal Iranian immigrant.

You signed a short film Manu in 2010. Why did you wait so long to direct a feature film?

Jeremy Elkaim: I came to cinema with the desire to tell stories and make films. So it took a long time! There is undeniably in all this a part of dilettantism but also a question of legitimacy, of managing to find its place and to see the place where I could do it. It is probably due to my way of making cinema sacred and of being a very cinephile. I had to damage my vision of its manufacture a little. Supporting others has been a joy. And I got off the bandwagon of projects many times that I had been offered. What changed the game here is that the desire came from an actress, in this case Marina Foïs (with whom I had played in Polisse) who offered me to adapt Calais my love, written by Béatrice Huret – who lived the story she tells – with the collaboration of Catherine Siguret. As if it had freed me and that it was going to allow me to put more of myself

By finally being engaged as you are as an actor…

Yes in the same way that a character can protect an actor and allow him to surrender.

What seduced and spoke to you in this story?

One thing that Béatrice Huret does not tell in the book: the pure intimacy that this widow of a sympathetic RN policeman shared with this Iranian teacher who arrived clandestinely in Calais with the aim of living in Great Britain. What is a romantic encounter when a totally improbable alchemy makes you vibrate and give rise to feelings? I saw in this question the possible reactor core of the film.


What led to choosing Jeanne Lapoirie (8 women, 120 beats per minute, Benedetta…) as director of photography?

Because she has a strong character. And I like to surround myself with strong women for the pleasure of hearing them express their points of view. I am not an authoritarian. I think authority comes naturally. There is no need to play it. There, I had built the film so much that it was done quietly. But above all Jeanne watches the actors. And for this film, it was an indispensable asset.

What pleasure did you take in directing Marina Foïs on this project that she initiated?

It was quite idyllic. Once the principle is in place and the actors chosen, there is, in my view, not much more to do. I deeply believe that the actors play the director who employs him. Marina therefore played with the text of course, but also the idea she has of me, of who I am and of my way of looking at the story. Sometimes we didn’t agree. But nothing has passed in force on his side as on mine.

Is it that I’m alive has changed a lot in editing?

On the set, I wanted very long takes to allow the actors to take the time to say things, to experience things, to look at each other. So I ended up with a lot of rushes, but the material was fascinating. Quite quickly, I wanted a rough first part to anchor it in Béatrice’s daily reality. Then I wanted that after the cacophony of the cemetery, of the jungle, of the helpers… when we arrive at this moment when they really look at each other with Mokthar, there is silence. Everything becomes more muffled because of its destabilization. It was the guide. By this yardstick, I had to remove crazy things. But you have to know how to mourn certain scenes for the coherence of the whole.

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