After “Naked Normandy”, Philippe Le Guay reunites with François Cluzet for “L’Homme de la cave”, on display this Wednesday. A dark and complex role, the outlines of which the filmmaker explains to us. Please note, the interview contains spoilers.
The story: In Paris, Simon and Hélène decide to sell a cellar in the building where they live. A man with a troubled past buys it and settles there without warning. Little by little, his presence will turn the couple’s life upside down.
AlloCiné: One might think at first glance that the starting point of L’Homme de la cave is pure fiction. However, you are inspired by a story that really happened …
Philippe Le Guay, director and co-writer: I knew two people, to whom this story happened. A perfectly normal couple, teachers. They have two cellars in their building. It is a family apartment. They decide to sell one to do some work. A guy comes …
They sell the cellar, and the guy turns out to be a teacher struck off for negationism. It’s kind of a shock wave. This awakens the past, since we are going to discover that, in this family, there is a great uncle who was deported to Auschwitz. It is all the paradox and the madness of this situation of a couple who shelters – in the cellar, in the bowels of the building -, someone who says that this story did not take place.
So, it is a nightmare, which at the same time is underpinned by reality. I tried to give it a plausible form, while keeping the tension a bit thriller.
There is indeed a whole work of staging to create a climate of tension. This involves, for example, the sets, the light, the music …
Yes, there is a kind of intensity of course. There is the personality of the actor who plays the man of the cellar and who is in this case François Cluzet, who brings power. What is he there! We’re not going to get rid of it easily.
At the same time, he is a miserable character. This man has nothing, he only has this cellar. This is the whole paradox. This guy who is on the side of the executioners is posing as a victim.
The challenge is to bring a certain nuance to this character. He intrigues, he pushes us to question ourselves …
My effort in the film was never to make him make anti-Semitic or negationist remarks in the image. That is to say that it is the others who inform us about him, in particular the lawyers.
After Normandy Naked, you find François Cluzet in a diametrically opposed role, and in which he exposes himself differently, we could say … It is a darker role, a facet that he had been able to show in particular in route by Philippe Godeau or L’Enfer by Claude Chabrol.
When you love an actor, when you see the scale of the register he can embody, it was really jubilant for me to start from the opposite of what I had done in Naked Normandy, where he played an empathetic, generous mayor. .
Here it was a question of going to explore the black face, the hatred, the suspicion, and to do it with him, with his complicity. It wasn’t about going looking for a guy with a bad face. It starts from the inside, that’s what is really interesting.
I saw François Cluzet arrive on the set, find the emotion and the truth of the character, with whom the real François obviously has nothing to do! But suddenly, we know that there is play. That’s what is beautiful with the actors, it is the fact of inviting us to play with them.
We don’t need to take a bastard to play a bastard, we know that’s not it! On the other hand, to see it transform before our eyes, it is something formidable.
There is also a whole symbolism linked to the cellar … What remains below, and what is on the surface …
Yes there is a whole imagination linked to the cellar, to the underground, to the drive, everything that is hidden, repressed … This character, basically, expresses this repression, all these nauseating things that are part of our lives.
We never go to a cellar for pleasure: the atmosphere of the cellar, the clay… There is always something quite oppressive.
This film is released in a particular context, against a backdrop of conspiracy and resurgence of anti-Semitism in particular …
I had to do it, almost for myself, while being aware that the film is not a self-portrait. I had a need to tell this story, and it turns out that what we’re going through today, and all this conspiracy story, all this talk of questioning the truth, this root is at the heart of our lives. It is not a mission, but I had a vocation to bring a subject, to get involved, through a film. I told myself that I had to go.
And there are unfortunately still resurgences today, whether it is conspiracy through vaccines, or this sign in a demonstration … Where does anti-Semitism fit? It is totally mysterious and abysmal.
Interview in August 2021 at the Angoulême Francophone Film Festival