Journal du Cinéma du Réel 2012 – day 1
Interview conducted by Lucrezia Lippi and Sébastien Magnier
APRES LE SILENCE ce qui n’est pas dit n’existe pas ?
English translation by Hélène Tison
With the faces of yesterday and today, with voices that do not meet, Vanina Vignal sketches out a journey within this Roumanian family, to whom she is so close, so that the truths about a trauma may come to the surface at last.
AFTER THE SILENCE, to some extent, almost seems to be about friendship rather than history or memory.
You could say, at the least, that friendship is what carries the film along. If it hadn’t been for the friendship, I wouldn’t have gone “digging” and without the two of us, maybe you wouldn’t have been interested in finding out what was behind it all. In Iona’s life, I’ve always been somebody who stirs things up, who asks questions, I’ve always helped her go beyond her limits. It’s been the basis for our friendship for twenty years, and gradually, it became the film: a journey toward what is concealed behind the family myth and the country’s history. Iona didn’t succeed in completing that journey on her own, it was too painful. But she found the strength to do it with me.
Is this, generally, the type of relationship you build with the people you film?
Let’s say that I’d find it hard to film the enemy. Some people can, but I know I couldn’t, even though I don’t pass judgement. Personally, I need to feel empathy, which doesn’t mean there are no conflicts. But we do things together.
Was the 1991 footage the starting point for the film? Why did you film then?
Because I’d stolen my father’s Hi8 camera; he’d received it for his wedding, but he wasn’t using it. So I just started filming at random all the time. I’ve always felt the need to keep track of things, and to look around me through a lens. At the time, I didn’t even watch what I’d shot. I was afraid of ruining the film. I thought I had to keep it for later. I was mailing things to myself for the future.
How did you decide on the structure of the film?
We played it by ear for a year with Mélanie Braux, my film editor, because there were a lot of different films we could have made with all that we had. What I was really interested in was how they thought, and how they managed, or didn’t manage, to say things. It was obvious that Iona’s voice couldn’t be cut up, that it had to exist over time, in the silence also; it needed time. It wasn’t so much what they said that mattered to me, but how. When we watched the first « draft » of the film, it became clear that my character (myself) had to be given more substance so that spectators could make connections. This meant that I had to be more present in the film.
Your voice over is quite present.
It was very hard to develop; that’s what took us the most time: depending on what I said and depending what the characters said, all of the balance of the film changed. We needed this voice over, because it takes responsibility for analysing what the characters have always refused to analyse. But we didn’t want it to be a sort of deity that knows everything while the characters don’t. It had to be a subtle accompaniment. It was quite difficult – as it was for me to accept the idea of being so present in the film. But the necessity became obvious at one point, so we took the time to do it. As I said, there are films for which time cannot be spared.
Three generations appear in the film, three different periods of time for a memory. Surprisingly, it’s Rodica who seems to find it easiest to talk, as if she needed to come out with certain things, too.
As soon as I asked her to tell me about her childhood, without knowing what had happened to her, Rodica just poured out all that she had been unable to tell her daughters.
I think my position, both inside and outside the family, my position also as a French person, who hadn’t known that world, communism, etc… it was the starting point for the film with these three women.
Teona is quite straightforward when she says she’s not interested in the topic.
Yes, but she also says that she’s « dying to ask » certain questions… So she’s understood, without ever being told, that she shouldn’t talk about these things. That’s the power of secrets and denial. When I started making the film I had intended to include three generations : I was instinctively going in that direction. Because what I’m dealing with here is how a secret is passed on from generation to generation.
When I came up with the title, “After the Silence”, I thought that it wasn’t quite right somehow, because to me, these three women were still shrouded in silence. But in the end it’s a good title, because it’s the film that will make them come through to the other side of silence: their journey to the film as well as seeing it together.
Do you think the film will help them move forward?
Ioana made the film for her daughter, and so did I to some extent. I can’t claim to change things, I’m no god. But at one point I realised, with the editing, that these characters were going to have a conversation. So even just wanting to see the film together, even in silence, although by now they know what it’s all about, that should change something. In fact, something has moved already, because Teona has told me she wanted to study history…
You’ve chosen to end the film with footage from the past.
Some people found it hard to understand the last shot, they wanted to see the Bucharest of today. But to me, it had to be an image from the past, it was obvious. This shot is my answer to what Ioana says; it says that I agree with her: things have not changed. There may be all the modernity and consumerism, but things haven’t changed yet in people’s minds. And it’s quite normal. Working on what hurts at the scale of an entire country is complicated. It won’t happen by waving a magic wand.