Jean Dujardin: “It’s pretty intense to cover a twelve-year-period within a time frame of two hours”

Academy Award-winning actor Jean Dujardin (b. 1972) visited Brussels recently to promote the release of his latest feature, Roman Polanski’s “J’Accuse” (a.k.a. “An Officer and a Spy”). This ambitious project is based on the true story of a French-Jewish artillery officer, Captain Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935), explaining how he was wrongly accused of spying for Germany in 1894. The following year he was sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to solitary confinement on Devil’s Island in French Guiana, where he was forbidden to even speak to his guards. The film then follows his attempt to exonerate himself several years later. At the time, his trial for treason became a cause célèbre in Paris.

Three years after being convicted, on January 13, 1898, French playwright, journalist and novelist Émile Zola (1840-1902), the first and second Nobel Prize winner in Literature in 1901 and 1902, wrote an open letter “J’Accuse…!” in the newspaper L’Aurore, which was addressed to French President Félix Faure, accusing the French government of anti-Semitism and putting pressure to reopen the case. The following year, after spending nearly five years on Devil’s Island, Dreyfus was returned to France for another trial.

Jean Dujardin during his introduction of “J’accuse” in Brussels | Leo/Film Talk

In France, this is known as the Dreyfus affair, and it’s one of the most controversial political dramas and miscarriages of justice in modern French history. In 1937 his son Pierre published his father’s memoirs “Souvenirs et Correspondence,” based on his father’s correspondence from 1899 until 1906 (publisher, Éditions Bernard Grasset). Consequently, this film is not related to Abel Gance’s two antiwar films and screen classics, also titled “J’Accuse” (1919, and an updated version made in 1938), both set in the First World War.

Roman Polanski’s “J’Accuse” is based on the 2013 book “An Officer and a Spy,” a compelling thriller regarded as a documentary-like assemblage of what actually took place, and was written by Robert Harris, who also co-wrote the script with Mr. Polanski (previously they scripted Polanski’s 2010 thriller “The Ghost Writer,” also based on a novel of his). “J’Accuse” was first screened at the Venice Film Festival where it was awarded the FIPRESCI Prize.

French actor and filmmaker Louis Garrel stars as Dreyfus; his latest features include “L’homme fidèle” (2018, a.k.a. “A Faithful Man”), which he also directed, and stars his wife, actress Laetitia Casta, in the leading role. Polanski’s wife, actress Emmanuelle Seigner, co-stars in “J’Accuse” and Jean Dujardin appears as Colonel Georges Picquart, by now a forgotten hero, but he was the counter-espionage officer who had unearthed—after his conviction—that Dreyfus was innocent.

Mr. Polanski (b. 1933), who previously directed films such as “Repulsion” (1965), “Cul-de-sac” (1966), “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), “Chinatown” (1974), “Tess” (1979), “The Pianist” (2002, Academy Award as Best Director) and “D’après une histoire vraie” (2017, a.k.a. “Based on a True Story”), had been working on “J’Accuse” for almost seven years, although filming reportedly didn’t start until late November 2018 and was completed by the end of April 2019.

Mr. Dujardin introduced the film in Brussels on October 30, 2019, about two weeks prior to the release of the film in a number of French-speaking territories (on November 13, 2019), stating that ‘it was a challenge and a pretty intense experience to cover a twelve-year-period within a time frame of two hours.’

He won an Academy Award for portraying silent film actor George Valentin in “The Artist” (2011). Since then, the French screen star made numerous highly-acclaimed films in France, and he also appeared in films as “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013), “The Monuments Men” (2013), and the 2014 Nespresso TV commercial with George Clooney.

“J’Accuse” (2019, trailer)

J’ACCUSE, a.k.a. AN OFFICER AND A SPY (2019) DIR Roman Polanski PROD Alain Goldman SCR Roman Polanski, Robert Harris (novel “An Officer and a Spy” [2012] by Robert Harris) CAM Pawel Edelman ED Hervé de Luze MUS Alexandre Desplat CAST Jean Dujardin (Colonel Georges Picquart), Louis Garrel (Alfred Dreyfus), Emmanuelle Seigner (Pauline Monnier), Grégory Gadebois (Henry), Christophe Maratier (Bertillon), Pierre Poirot (Vallecalle), Stéfan Godin (General Darras), Roman Polanski (A Listener at a Concert [uncredited])