Rewarded by the Audience Prize at the Deauville American Film Festival, after a passage noticed by Cannes, “Blue Bayou” is a beautiful drama against a background of immigration, that the actor and director Justin Chon spoke to our microphone.
For the general public, Justin Chon is the interpreter of Eric Yorkie in the Twilight saga. But he is also a director whose previous feature films had not crossed the Atlantic to reach our theaters. Which is fortunately not the case with Blue Bayou.
Passed by Cannes, in the Un Certain Regard category, the film has just won the Audience Award at the 47th American Film Festival in Deauville. France therefore succeeds in this poignant drama against a background of immigration, which is based in particular on frightening statistics: those of the number of foreign children adopted by Americans who are today threatened with deportation from the United States.
Producer, screenwriter, director and main performer of his film, facing Alicia Vikander, Justin Chon spoke of Blue Bayou at our microphone during his passage through the Croisette.
AlloCiné: Even if it may seem surprising to begin by evoking the end, the images and statistics that we see there are particularly striking and frightening. Is a personal story behind the film? Or are these stories you might have heard about it?
Justin chon : International adoption around the world began in Korea after the Korean War [1950 – 1953, ndlr]. Christian couples came and found orphans, children who needed a home, and put them with nice Christian families in the southern United States.
There are quite a few Korean adoptees, but it has become big business over the decades. Agencies have been created to facilitate overseas adoptions, whether in China, India or South America. And I started to hear crazy things like adoptees who are now 30, 40 or 50 years old being kicked out of the country.
I found it incredibly inhuman and insane that you could be adopted by American citizens as a child, without having a say in moving to another country, and that a few decades later it could be decided that you are no longer a US citizen, due to a loophole in the law.
Was it complicated to make a film that criticizes the United States in this way?
It is not so much a criticism as an observation: there is nothing to criticize, because it is something that is happening. I had the feeling that no one was talking about it when it was a very important thing. In general, immigration revolves more around the border issue.
Whether it’s Mexican, South American or whatever, you hear a lot about it. But the idea of deportation for foreigners who have been adopted into the country is rarely discussed. It therefore seemed important to me to explain the problem represented by this immigration policy.
I would really like the film to help amplify the voice of certain organizations, and change the law.
Beyond the statistics revealed by the end credits, were you helped by organizations to make this film?
I worked very closely with a few adopted children, to make sure things were genuine, real, and that I wasn’t overdoing it. I also worked on legal aspects with a lawyer specializing in immigration matters. It is not really about politics, because we are talking more about a man and his personal journey. But I would really like the film to help amplify the voice of certain organizations, and change the law.
Did you plan to play in it from the start, or did you do it out of necessity?
When I wrote it, I didn’t think I was in the movie. But the more time went by, the more I felt that if one of the objectives of the film was to make it possible to change something, it was going to take an actor who could talk about these issues. I realized that was a lot to ask someone. Usually, once the movie is over and the premiere is over, the actors want to move on. As I was very involved, I felt comfortable with the idea of playing in it.
Was having an Oscar-winning actress like Alicia Vikander on the cast vital for the film’s funding?
Sure ! (laughs) Alicia is a global star and an amazing actress. And beyond the funding, I think she adds value to any film, because she is very talented. And I can all the more say, for having played in front of her, that she makes everything better (laughs) At 1000%. A lot of people tell me about the emotional scenes in Blue Bayou, but when your playmate is this talented and generous, and gives you so much, it’s not very difficult. Because you just have to listen and respond.
Has “Blue Bayou” changed you as a director, actor and person?
Absoutely ! I’ve always wanted to make films that go beyond entertainment or art. This one was incredibly difficult to do, but having to fight for some things that I thought were important made me realize how much you need to be vigilant about what matters and keep your voice intact. so you can say what you want to say.
But I always have the same goals when I make a film. And in particular, bring empathy to my community. But also to show that we are not as different from each other as we sometimes seem to think. Today we are in France with the film, and I know that the country deals with immigration: it is a subject which does not concern only America or the United Kingdom. All over the world, immigration is a huge and difficult subject.
You say that we are not that different from each other, and that ties in with the universal aspect of your film, when you question the notion of family and what it represents.
Everyone who is born into this world has a mother and a father. And I don’t see a more universal concept than family. The one you choose, the one you were born into. Is one more real than the other?
Anyone who has a friend can understand that the people you choose can sometimes be much more important. Especially for people who have been adopted and do not know their family. In this way, the specificity of the character and the narration can make the film very universal.
Interview by Maximilien Pierrette in Cannes on July 13, 2021