FIFF Namur: 31st edition kicks off in style with Dardenne’s “La fille inconnue,” a.k.a. “The Unknown Girl”

FIFF Namur is short for ‘Festival International du Film Francophone de Namur,’ a.k.a. International Film Festival of the French-language Film in Namur (Belgium). Honoring French-speaking films from all continents, it was first organized in the mid-1980s, and has become a renowned yearly event, very well-organized, highly professional, and has compiled an incredible list of guests over the years, including Marion Cotillard, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jean Rochefort, Audrey Tautou, Mélanie Laurent, and numerous others.

fiff-2016This year’s most prominent guests include French actress Sandrine Bonnaire, a Festival habituée in the meantime, and Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who introduced their latest film “La fille inconnue” (“The Unknown Girl”) to the audience at the Festival’s opening night.

During a press conference in Namur, earlier that day, the Dardenne brothers talked to the Belgian press about “La fille inconnue.”

Since the film was screened at the Cannes Film Festival last May, it has been slightly re-edited. Why did you do that?

[Luc Dardenne] In all, we cut about seven and a half minutes. We had reached a point when we had to look at the film from a different angle; as a spectator, you’re less involved now in the chronological order of what happens in Jenny’s life [character played by Adèle Haenel], but you’re more focused on what’s really going on in her head. Things are more in perspective now, and the film is exactly as we want it. When we were in Cannes, we still had some doubts. The reason for re-editing the film right now is also because, for the very first time, we didn’t take any time off between shooting and editing the film. We kept on working and became sort of prisoners of our own schedule: we were so involved and fascinated with our own work and what we were doing—it’s like you’re totally absorbed by our rhythm.

In the past, you have often worked with unknown actors and discovered new talent, while in your latest films, you have cast very well-known actresses such as Cécile De France, Marion Cotillard, and Adèle Haenel. Is there a reason for this different approach?

[Luc Dardenne] We just wanted to try something else. That’s it, you know. We just wanted to see how it would work out if it would be interesting. Our collaboration with Marion, for example, worked out extremely well [for “Deux jours, une nuit,” a.k.a. “Two Days, One Night”]. For us, it was very interesting to see what the result of her performance in a film of ours would be like and how we would be able to work together. After all, our world is not entirely hers.
[Jean-Pierre Dardenne] But it didn’t really change the way we work. We still rehearse four to five weeks on the actual locations before we start shooting, with all the actors and the actresses, and we use a small camera. Of course, every actor is different. It all depends. There are non-professional actors who tend to play their characters as they would act or react in daily life; others use a certain kind of technique of their own. When rehearsing, it gives us enough time to straighten things out between the actors so that in the end, all the performances are on the same level, and by the time we start shooting, there are no indifferences at all.

Is there a reason why the main character in “La fille inconnue” is once again a woman?

[Luc Dardenne] When we were writing the screenplay, we thought it would be logical that with a woman playing the character in the title role, the doctor had to be a woman as well. She was also the victim of violence in a few scenes. If we had a male doctor, we wouldn’t be able to tell the same story.

Have you ever considered doing a comedy?

[Jean-Luc Dardenne] We like comedies a lot, but I don’t think we’re the kind of filmmakers who should be doing a comedy. The scripts we write and the films we make, that’s what we do. In film history, also in the theater, actors or directors who do both often started doing comedies before turning to tragedies or dramas. But those who began in the genre of tragedies or dramas rarely make comedies. Voilà, but you never know.

Who convinced you to have the premiere of “La fille inconnue” here at the Festival International du Film Francophone [FIFF] in Namur?

[Luc Dardenne] Our Belgian distributor Cinéart thought it would be wise to come to this Festival first, before releasing the film nationwide. That means that the FIFF is a very important Festival in Belgium. The same thing happened in Switzerland: our Swiss distributor asked us to come over for two days to the Festival of Bienne. In the Netherlands, there is the Dutch Film Festival in Utrecht, so to many distributors, it is very important to launch their films at a Festival which is influential and highly regarded in their country—like this Festival is important for Belgium.

How do you explain that, after “La promesse” [1996], all of your films were successful, while your earliest films were hardly noticed?

[Luc Dardenne] The first one was something entirely different; it was an adaptation of a stage play. You can’t compare that one with the ones we did later on. But you have to remember that the public and the critics are always right, you know. They see the films, and they have to appreciate them. If you don’t get their recognition, you got nothing. So those first films simply weren’t good enough.

Festival International du Film Francophone de Namur, Namur (Belgium)
September 30, 2016

“La fille inconnue” (2016, trailer)