Supreme: “The most important thing was that JoeyStarr and Kool Shen be proud” – Actus Ciné

Currently in the cinema, Suprêmes looks back on the beginnings of JoeyStarr and Kool Shen within the legendary group NTM. AlloCiné spoke with director Audrey Estrougo about the preparation of this biopic unlike any other.

Committed filmmaker, Audrey Estrougo took on the challenge of telling the genesis of the French rap group NTM with the film Suprêmes. This biopic, carried by the duo Théo Christine and Sandor Funtek, traces the beginnings on the music scene of JoeyStarr and Kool Shen with the backdrop of an inventory of the society of the time and a dive into their personal lives.

Presented out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival, Suprêmes arrives today in dark rooms to stir up spectators’ fever. AlloCiné met the director, who returned to the important preparation of Suprêmes and what she wanted to convey through this film, co-written with Marcia Romano.

AlloCiné: What made you want to look at the emergence of rap and hip-hop on the French music scene through the beginnings of NTM between 1989 and 1992?

Audrey Estrougo: What made me want to tell about these beginnings, of this group, is that Suprême NTM is the first group to say loud and clear that there is a problem among young people in the suburbs and that you have to look at them. “Look your youth in the eye”, that means what it means.

And this youth has been ignored, instrumentalized and abandoned for 30 years. They [JoeyStarr et Kool Shen, ndlr] were prophets and said what was going to happen and described what was already happening. At the time, we preferred to point the finger at them because they were called Nique Ta Mère rather than listen to them. It is the synthesis of all that that I wanted to tell.

This political discourse is felt in the backdrop of the film and echoes our current society …

This is what is sad actually. This is something that depressed me quite a bit, especially during the editing, where there was all this archival research work going on in parallel. Beyond the fact that nothing has changed, that nothing changes, it is really a bottle of water in the sea in fact.

What is terrible is that they wanted that to change. They believed in it and all of their energy was directed solely towards this goal. That we hear them and that change, they asked only that. And it has never been done. And as a result today, we have an even worse social framework where everything has deteriorated.

We don’t even have these spokespersons there, we don’t even have this youth there. She is on her knees and no longer wants to believe it. This is what is dramatic. It’s the people who ruled us who shot us all.


Audrey Estrougo / Sony Pictures France

Are these topics that were discussed with JoeyStarr and Kool Shen upstream during the writing or preparation of the film? Was it important to have the validation of the artists concerned?

Sure. I know that’s what Didier liked from the start [JoeyStarr, ndlr], to tell that precisely and that there be this political discourse very strong and anchored in society. It’s something that made sense to them and is part of their DNA. There was a logic to it all.

How were Théo Christine and Sandor Funtek chosen? And how was the shoot with them?

It lasted 8 months and I didn’t know if I should take young people who were rapping and dancing or young people who were just young people or actors. I met several profiles of artists and non-professionals and I kept the two actors in the end because they had done a real job of interpretation. We are not too used to this way of working and approaching roles in France. They worked like Americans.

After, we set up a working method for a year, they got into the shoes of their characters. I had prepared a program, it was super theoretical but with a meaning so that they could ultimately be free to compose their characters. Because we are all the same in a fiction and not in a docu-fiction but we have to believe in it.

They are incredible in their performance but physically they are not Bruno [Kool Shen, ndlr] and Didier, or even vocally, notably for Théo. In Sandor’s case, it’s creepy, Bruno used to tell me that he sometimes felt like he got along when Sandor spoke.

In any case, we had the time to find the space to capture who they were elsewhere than in the mime. We took in their character, their psychology, their energy and we brought that back on stage. It’s a big job of assimilation. We really took a year to do that.


Gianni Giardinelli / Sony Pictures Entertainment France

This energy is precisely more than palpable in the film, especially in the group’s concert scenes. How do we think and prepare this kind of sequences?

Nothing that happens on stage is due to chance, everything is ultra worked, choreographed, scenographed. Each scene has its own cinematographic grammar, like in the first concert, for example, where we are in total immersion with them, with this camera which moves all the time.

The idea was really to mark a progression of these young apprentice rappers who become accomplished artists as the scenes progress. So I worked a lot on the visual language but also the way of composing the energy on stage. At first, they are crazy dogs, in every way, very punk in fact, and then, little by little, they are more settled with very precise choreography. There was really this idea of ​​progression that connects each scene.

Even though it is a biopic, Supremes remains a movie and therefore has a fictionalized point of view. Even if the sensitivity part of the two characters brings a lot of strength to the film, is there a part of idealization in the relationship between JoeyStarr and Kool Shen?

Honestly, I don’t think she is idealized. Because it’s a real love story between the two, with ups and downs. For me, it was important to keep this essence there. Afterwards, Theo and Sandor became a pair. There was Theo and Sandor and now there is Theodore, I call them both.

It nourished their characters and their relationship. And the camera has captured this chemistry and you can feel it. I could only encourage their friendship because it serves the story and I think it’s true to what JoeyStarr and Kool Shen may have been at one point in their youth.

It’s not my story, it’s theirs. But their story is interpreted by others and seen through my eyes. So it’s true that all of this requires distance and intelligence on their part. Afterwards I was quite free to consult them through writing interviews.

Did JoeyStarr and Kool Shen have any say in the script and direction? What did they think of the film?

We were very clear from the start. Everyone had to have their place, them like me. It’s not my story, it’s theirs. But their story is interpreted by others and seen through my eyes. So it’s true that all of this requires distance and intelligence on their part. Afterwards I was quite free to consult them through writing interviews.

I could go find what interested me. They trusted me for the shoot and let me do it. They came to validate rehearsals. Each was close to their “little one”, to the actors who embodied them. They were very generous with them and approved them very quickly. They really liked the film and they are very proud of it.


Gianni Giardinelli

How did the pandemic impact the filming? Has there been any consideration to release the film on a platform?

It was never envisaged that the film would be released on a platform. It is a show that must be experienced indoors, together. Afterwards, the pandemic finally did us good. We were supposed to shoot in mid March 2020 at the base and it was not possible suddenly but it allowed us to work even more. We continued to rehearse, to work through Zoom.

We shot our vandal scenes in the metro and then rehearsed. After that I went between the drops because I was in post-production during the second lockdown. In fact, that he comes out of confinement with his concerts, his energy, it’s a shot back to life, I think, this film. Maybe life did it right after all. We all had a hard time with the Covid but this film was ultimately overly protected.

Have you ever had feedback from NTM fans who have seen the film?

So far, hardcore NTM fans like the movie very much and find it successful. They meet there so I am very happy. But for me, the most important thing was that JoeyStarr and Kool Shen were proud and that they recognized it as a film that traces their history.

Interview by Mégane Choquet on July 10, 2021 in Cannes.

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