Dinner with Les invisibles
When I was living in Paris, I saw the earthquake that devastated my native Japan, in Tōhoku. Obviously, I was quite shaken by the event. I spent a lot of time looking at the images that paraded across the television screen. The silhouettes in overalls continually entered the “off limits area” that was visible behind the journalists. I wondered who those faceless men were that kept disappearing silently into the contaminated area. The project was born from that initial questioning.
Yes, it’s required. In English it’s called an “outage”. All reactors are stopped once per year for a certain period in order to perform maintenance.
The reactor where the story takes place is not specified. Only at the end of the film do the men leave that reactor to go to the one in Fessenheim. These men travel to various reactors across France. They’re called “nuclear nomads”, whence their caravans. The only reason I chose the Fessenheim reactor for their next destination was that I figured the viewer would immediately identify it as another nuclear reactor.
Perhaps. It’s difficult for me to answer that question. I’m worried about becoming too reductive. For me, it represents a kind of destiny, or perhaps “life” itself, rather than an organism. We make choices over the course of our lives, we think that our destinies belong to us. But perhaps life too follows its own path. And perhaps we aren’t aware of this because life is too gigantic. I don’t believe in what we call destiny, but I admit that I would like to believe in at times… I should say that I myself sometimes wonder what the image represents. It’s actually a recurring dream I have, often when I have to make an important decision. Clearly, I’m very afraid of making a mistake… The dream can be interpreted in a thousand different ways. How do you interpret it?
While making this film, did you work in a vacuum with a single group of film crew members? If not, where did you get the inspiration for the sequences that talk about their past and that show this group of workers on camera, revealing their daily routines, their emotions, their reactions, their humor?
I do not have a set crew, even if I regularly work with certain people in it. The inspiration for those scenes comes mainly from the lives of the workers themselves. I spent a lot of time with those men. It is also thanks to the trust they showed in me that I was able to write this film. We exchanged a lot of thoughts, they invited me to see the places they lived, some shared their fears, their questions, their personal stories. Les invisibles was written alongside a long “documentary” work.
No, they are all actors. Workers cannot appear on screen nor should there be any evidence of their involvement. Otherwise, they might lose their job. Before I got there, several workers were warned by their employer or lost their job after appearing in the media. They have to remain silent and be “invisible”.
I’m not sure that the hero’s girlfriend, Amélie, disapproves of his choice. For me, she makes Alexandre understand another reality that he must face up to: the lives of others. Yes, I imagined Alexandre’s past and the people close to him, as I did for all the characters in the film. For me, this is also a film about community in the largest sense of the term, the complexity of the ties we may have with every other person, whether they be friends, family, colleagues. I found that indispensable in creating a “just” view with respect to what I wanted to tell. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough space in the film to develop those stories very much. They’ll have to wait for another occasion, because I truly want to tell them.
Yes, a lot. Without wishing to sound pretentious, I think I’m pretty up to date on that.
That is very much one of the themes that pushed me to write the film. We all have contradictions within us; this was equally the case with the men and the women whom I met as I wrote the film. That moved me deeply, and pushed me to think. There was something very human. We all have the right to “a dream”; the people I met all had one and they “put up with” their jobs, their daily routines, their sacrifices, explaining to me that “one day, I’m going to stop and then my life will be different”. But what space is there for “a dream” in the daily reality of decontaminators? Does that “one day” really exist? I asked the question of a young worker. He looked at me, then looked away without saying anything.
It’s obviously a subject that is not limited to the nuclear domain and it’s true that I am particularly sensitive to it.
The only point of comparison I have for that question is the short film industry in Japan. Unfortunately, there isn’t one, or practically none. That does not mean that there are no short films in Japan, quite the opposite, there are many artists who make them. But they must produce them exclusively with their own means. In France, short films can be produced in the financial sense of the term. The money to make a film is very important, but what I think is even more important is the space for reflection that the whole of the French production system creates. Here I’m talking about the committees, the subsidies, the festivals and the broadcasting venues for short films. We can admire or criticize this system, we can participate in it or question it, but all in all, that space forces and entitles artists and producers to go farther, to take greater responsibility for their decisions, their desires, their tastes, their films, and all of that to me is quite priceless. In any case, when looking at the film industries in Japan and France, and when talking to my colleauges in both countries, that’s the conclusion I always come to.
Programme for viewing Les invisibles: National Competition F6.
More info Akihiro Hata will give an interview for LDTV during the festival.