Monday 29 February 2016

Interview withTeddy Lussi-Modeste, director of Jimmy Rivière

Jimmy Rivière, a UK Premiere, and one of the three films in the Borderlines Romani Cinema strand, gets inside a French Traveller community at a summer camping ground near Grenoble.

Extracts from a 2011 interview, translated from the French, with its Romani director, Teddy Lussi-Modeste

What is the origin of Jimmy Riviere?

I wanted to film my community but I wanted to look at the world from that point of view. I wanted to retrace the steps of a young Traveller who everyone can identify with. His story questions what it is like to belong to a travelling group and how it is possible to live differently. To find ones own place among the people who are like him is a universal subject and that is what I wanted to show. The most honest way, the most sincere and the most real way to enter my community- to grasp the language , the rites, the faces - asking at the end, on my behalf a certain form of romanticism.

Do you think that you are the mouth piece of your community?

No. The film does not claim or demand anything. Nevertheless I think that it has a political significance. The film is political because I choose to tell the story of a young Traveller and to follow, in the most classical way, his path. What is political about it is to think that a Traveller can be, in 2011, the centre of a story that anyone can identify with. It is political to throw some light on the character on something other than his identity as a Traveller. It is also political is to show a young man in a different way to how the media and the cinema would show him, not because it would be extraordinary, but simply because they would not have enough knowledge about him.

You are a French Traveller with the paradox that you are very attached to one region.

I am a Traveller but I feel very attached to Grenoble. It is there that I wanted to film Jimmy Rivière. The attachment that I feel towards that city is the same feeling that I have towards Travellers. It is a part of my cultural and emotional structure. Why not look at the world from a place that one knows well rather than somewhere else?

For the ’dull-witted’ who think that Travellers always travel, this deep rooted attachment to one place is surprising.

Gilles Deleuze says that nomads only travel around the same area. It’s true for us. My family has taken root in Grenoble but to begin with they were Travellers from Italy. They came from Piedmont. They were one of the ethnic groups called the Sinti. Grenoble is a crossroads. It is the junction between Italy and France and it also represents a possible location for commerce for the Travellers. For example my father and my brothers have stalls in the market. They have their stalls in the Saint-Bruno market in Grenoble. But on our plot of land there are always caravans so that we can leave at certain times of the year either to work in other towns or visit members of our family who are located in a different district.

Where does your wish to make films come from?

I always felt a little like a stranger at home. I believed that books and later the cinema could be an ointment for this type of pain. When I was very young the American cinema had a deep impact on me. It was the one that was the most accessible and also appreciated by my mother. Great films like Rumble Fish or Outsiders by Coppola left a mark on my childhood.  After that I discovered other types of cinema, Italian, French, Chinese, and other American directors like Todd Haynes whose film Velvet Goldmine was very important for me. I think that I wanted to go to the National Film School after I had seen that film. But if I had to think today about the films that touched me most of all it would be around the Italian cinema, or that of the Italian-Americans. In those Italian-American films I most likely recognised something, which was probably the feeling of the status of the immigrants, belonging to two cultures.  What I like in The Godfather by Coppola is this very strong clash of belonging to a community and the ideals of a country. In the first scene of the film: a man who had confidence in America asked the Godfather to punish his daughter’s rapist because the courts of his country were incapable of doing it.

What did it mean to you to go to the National Film School?

It represented a break with my community. In fact the first break happened at the end of Primary School. Most of the Travellers’ children stop going to school at that time and are educated through Correspondence Courses until they are 16. After that they do the same jobs as their parents. I wanted to carry on, not because I liked school in particular, but because I could sense that it could offer me a different life. So going from Primary education to Secondary education was the first break The second was leaving studying Modern Literature to going to the National Film School, because going to the National Film School meant me leaving Grenoble. Normally a Traveller leaves home only after he is married. I think it was the most difficult thing to do. I secretly went to the interview and when the letter of admission arrived my family had to accept it. I also had to negotiate with members of the family. Some were for it and some were against it and then finally I went to study at the National Film School.

The film focuses on the Pentecostalists  inside the Travelling community.

This religion is practiced by half of the French Travelling community which means 250.000 people out of more or less 500.000. The origin of this religion is a church founded in the United States. One can find in certain American films those pastors  and the type of baptism. This religion arrived in the fifties in France and expanded very quickly in the community. The pastors, who are themselves Travellers, have a centre of religious formation, and possess land on which their celebrations can take place.  They reorganise, from within, the world of the traveller, their culture, their way of looking at the world.  I was interested in filming what the religion created indirectly, did it exacerbate or contradict the travellers identity? In particular about the question of violence. Pentecostalism believes that it can absorb the question of violence especially around the question of fist fighting.  We see at this very moment an historical transition inside the community.

In the question of style, and even the lyricism, there is a choice of music……

It is important for me that there is a division between the music ‘IN’ , the hymns in the church and the music ‘OVER’ which is the music composed for the film.  I wanted to stay away as far as possible from violin and guitar, as a personal taste.  I was looking for a melody, something melancholy, that belonged more to the cinematographic culture rather than the traveller’s culture.

What instructions did you give the composer?

None. I had listened to his previous albums that I liked very much indeed. I did not want to go against his style. I wanted him to find a bridge between his own style and the film. We didn’t talk about music or film music. We talked about films that we both liked: for example certain films of Terence Malick, such as Badlands. We talked more about the script and images than about the music.

You shot the film before the controversial discussion about the Gipsy encampments during the summer of 2010. Do you think that there is a risk about how the film will be received? 

I have a tendency to trust people, especially cinema-goers.  To go and see a film  really shows a form of humanity. Therefore I ask for the desire and the curiosity to discover something else, something different than what the media and certain politicians are talking about.  I am impatient for the film to come out, so that the public can see that a traveller can be the mainstay of a story and that they can participate emotionally in the story. I hope also that the public will see us differently and less as foreigners and outsiders.

A member of the Travelling community, Teddy Lussi-Modeste was born in Grenoble in 1978. After studying modern literature (Lettres Modernes) he enrolled at the French National Film School.(La Fémis). He directed Embrasser les Tigres in 2004, Dans l'Oeil in 2006, Je Viens in 2008 then directed a feature film Jimmy Rivière, a film written with Rebecca Zlotowski, in 2010, .