The director of Retour à Forbach signs a fascinating documentary on the new town of Cergy, in close collaboration with the writer Annie Ernaux. Meet
With I liked living there, you sign a portrait of the city of Cergy, created a little over 50 years ago, by going to meet its inhabitants but also and above all by relying on texts by Annie Ernaux who lives there. How did you know her?
Régis Sauder: I had learned that she had loved Back to Forbach, my previous feature film and when I went to present it at the cinema that she attends regularly, Annie suggested that we meet and showed me around Cergy… This walk and our discussions immediately made me want to devote a film to this city by associating Annie as much as possible. And our dialogue has never stopped since.
How did you build this documentary?
On a double temporality: the history of the 50 years of this city and that of a summer that the young high school students who live there spend there before leaving it after the Bac. In addition to my discussions with Annie Ernaux, my two years of writing will be nourished by a workshop that I conducted with high school students from the Lycée Galilée and regular walks in the city. I believe for a long time that my exchanges with Annie will form the heart of the film before, little by little, withdrawing them from the story in favor of a dialogue between her works – read by her but also by the inhabitants of Cergy – and my images.
Two emotions dominate throughout I liked living there : joy and melancholy …
I liked living there is a film of the public space, of the outside, of what we share, where people meet, touch, kiss. This idea of putting love in the foreground is not there to evacuate that of the violence that exists and moreover regularly pierces the film. But there is in me this desire to show that we can show the suburbs other than by stigmatizing it and associating it only with the notion of misery. I assume the political side of the process. And the nostalgia you talk about then arises naturally from the fact that I show the passing time. We see all the memories, all the traces that have settled down, all these people who are no longer there, these children who are leaving. The nostalgia is there because the city is inhabited by these memories. And the title I chose includes this idea. A compound past that joins the present. I loved living there… and today I am still there and I still love living there.
I liked living there is a very staged documentary. Why this choice ?
For a very simple reason: I liked living there does not tell the reality of Cergy so much as the way I look at this city. It therefore required a lot of research upstream, a lot of preparation, a lot of writing to achieve a very precise breakdown. At the same time, I worked with all the young people we see on the screen who have really been accomplices in directing and fiction over the months that I spent with them, in a workshop. With the help of choreographer Julie Desprairies, we worked a lot on movements, the inscription of bodies in architecture… And to thus twist reality in a light shoot, I was also able to rely on Tom Harari, Onoda’s cinematographer, and the beauty of his images.
I liked living there was rewritten a lot during editing?
This is the first time that I have collaborated with Agnès Bruckert (Story of a look by Mariana Otero…) and I loved her method which consists in starting by respecting the intuition of writing with the key to a first end to end, at the end of which you realize what it produces. The narrative arc was there. And then we started all the reorganization work, relying on places envisaged as meetings in the film in which the characters were going to have to cross paths. This assembly was very fun.