Interview: Filmmaker David Oelhoffen talks CLOSE ENEMIES

Horror is such a fluid form of storytelling. It is the only genre that has its own conventions and festivals. It adapts to other film styles with terrifying, humorous, and all too human results. Horror can be defined as the one that you love but never know them at all. It is a gun pointed at your face or entering a conflict you know you never will leave. It is those friends and family who question your loyalty and trust. It is the reality of crime. Horror can take many shapes, even in the most dramatic thrillers.

Filmmaker David Oelhoffen has been a staple of the French film scene for the better part of two decades. His last film entitled Far From Men presented a journey of two men escaping the accusation of murder of the Atlas Mountains. Returning to the two-character conflict, Close Enemies reunites Actor Reda Kateb from Far From Men with Oelhoffen. Close Enemies tells the tale of two childhood friends Manuel (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Driss (Reda Kateb) reunited after Manuel has been released from prison. Returning into the world they once knew together in Paris and the families that connect them, Manuel falls back into the criminal underworld of violence and drugs. Dealing with a life of family and crime, the two friends must ban together after a drug deal goes down wrong and death happens. Close Enemies is tense and emotional storytelling blended with the realistic fear of personal choices and the question of loyalty that can raise us up or end up murdered.

While at Fantastic Fest, Jay Kay had a chance to talk with Oelhoffen about his project. We talk the challenges of the crime thriller, the impact of a female editor, and reality to crime for Dread Central.

Dread Central: Thank you for taking the time David to talk about Close Enemies. First of all, talk about what your feelings are to be a part of the 2018 Fantastic Fest and the films U.S. Premiere?

David Oelhoffen: It’s great to have the opportunity to share my work with an American audience. It’s an honor and I just hope that the film will be understood out of the French context.

DC: This is your first feature that is a crime thriller/drama, what was challenging about this film genre?

DO: My last film, Far from Men was a kind of western and a kind of genre film too. Every film, every genre is challenging. But for me, the most important is to focus on the characters with the help of the actors. During the whole process, the emotional state of the characters was in my mind. Of course, you have specific issues to deal with when you shoot a crime thriller / drama. ‘How do you film violence for instance?’ My desire was to film criminal life with no lyrism, no romanticism. Thug life actually is not glamourous. My c0hallenge was to be true to reality.  Violent scenes are all very short, surprising. No music just fears and instant death.

DC: What made you want to collaborate with Jeanne Aptekman?

DO: I wrote a first draw alone and then Jeanne co-wrote with me. She helped me a lot to find the balance between crime thriller codes, and attention to the characters. I wanted to make this authentic, so, I first talked with important drug traffickers, thanks to a lawyer friend of mine. I tried to understand how concretely their lives were organized. It turned out that the gap with the usual idea of criminal life was huge. Lots of waiting, lots of fear and little romanticism. The project was born. It made me want to see this same reality in the other side of the law, the police. I co-wrote a few years ago L’affaire Ski AFFAIRE SK1, a film about Guy Georges the first serial killer listed in France, directed by Frédéric Tellier. I kept a lot of contacts in the Police. And I talked with them again for Freres Enemis. So, I had a pretty unique documentation on both sides of the drug traffic barrier.

DC: What makes this narrative compelling with these two central characters? How does the dynamic of family influence the narrative?

DO: With Jeanne Aptekman, we tried to bring the same dramatic nuances to these characters whether they are simple commuters, drug traffickers or policemen. Intimate, political, and family conflicts may crystallize in different ways in affluent neighborhoods or brotherhoods, but they have the same complexity everywhere.

I traveled a lot with Reda for Far From Men. The scenario had evolved in the light of our conversations. I wrote imagining these scenarios it in the character of Driss. His career inspired me. I wanted to highlight the tension in someone who wants to be seen for his qualities but who is almost always returned to its origins, asked for it. Reda managed to build his freedom, but thousands of other young people don’t manage it. This tension between the acceptance of the label and the desire to free oneself from it, is what the character of Driss lives. The only way to climb the police hierarchy is to accept this etiquette and accept the promotion to the brigade of narcotics. This is the only place where his origins are valued. He knows the suburbs and drug traffickers. It’s sometimes what you are obliged to do as an actor. To accept the etiquette.

Regarding Manuel, we understand that he grew up alone. He has found a family, a Moroccan clan in which he is perfectly integrated, while being completely apart. But, he has such a lack of love, that he is very naive concerning this clan and loyalty. So, I really think that identity and family issues are the heart of the narrative.

Fortunately, Reda liked the script! Then I proposed the part of Manuel to Matthias Schoenaerts. I was dreaming of working with him since I saw Bullhead. Matthias wanted to work with Reda for a long time. He liked the script too. Casting has been the easiest part of the film!

DC: Driss’s conflict of family versus being a cop is one of the most compelling conflicts. Can you talk about how you developed that?

DO: The return of Driss to his parents is a very important scene for me. As the return of Manuel to his ex-wife (played by Gwendolyn Gourvennec). These are two important moments, where the characters shuffled in their identity return to the people they love. Two sparks of lost love. How I work for such scenes with the actors? Giving as much space and freedom as possible to them, in order to find all together more nuances and complexity in their characters. Changing dialogues or body language with them before and during the shooting.

DC: This is the second straight feature film that Kateb is under your direction. What intangibles does Kateb bring to the characters you create and cultivate?

DO: Reda has an incredible power of incarnation. He is sensitive, intelligent, open. To play, he goes back and forth between intelligence and intuition. I almost always rely on his intuitions to try to find a way to be more consistent, fairer, or truer to reality (which was what you were trying to do with Driss). Thanks to that process, Reda brings complexity and humanity to his characters. As in my film I try to not simplify human relationships, he’s a perfect partner.

DC: Stunt Coordinator Jerome Gaspard handles the action in the film. He has some incredible projects that he has worked on nearly 20 years. What did his experience and talent bring to the film for the action sequences in the film?

DO: I worked with Dominique Fouassier. I don’t remember Jerome Gaspard. I wanted the violence to be realistic and it is not so easy!

DC: So, if I am correct, this is your third feature with a female editor? Is there a reason why each editor has been female and what did this film’s editor Anne-Sophie Bion bring?

DO: My films, so far, are very masculine. They talk about fragile or lost men, but they talk about men. I do not have fascination for virility, for triumphant virility. What interests me is issues about identity. That could be hold by female characters but for some reason it is not the case so far. Working with Jeanne Aptekman in the writing of Close Enemies, or working with female editors, or working with female Director Assistant (Juliette Crété) helps me to have some perspective on all these men. Anne-Sophie Bion is brilliant. She brings talent.

DC: Your DP from Far from Men returns to Close Enemies, what was made Guillaume Deffontaines style fit this film? Did Filmmaker Michael Mann influence the look of this film?

DO: Guillaume is not defined by a style, but by is talent to adapt his style to the story. For me, he is an essential collaborator. For us, Close Enemies was a bet as he was visually very different from the previous film, Far From Men. The idea was to be inside a group. Camera on shoulder. Guillaume managed to shoot with the mini Alexa by putting Leica lenses that were used for the first time for the cinema. So, thanks to that, we had a very small and high-performance camera. We could film under cars, in very small places. At first glance, the image may seem crude, but it is anything but naturalistic. The frame is stylized and tries to always highlight the actors.

For the characters who live in the outskirts of Paris, this suburb is at the same time a cocoon, a protection, and a prison. So, I didn’t want this suburbs depiction to be only anxiogenic. Sometimes they have to be beautiful. There are perspectives from rooftops that are very graphic because the same person can love his suburb, identify himself with it, find it beautiful and hate it. That was what we were talking about. We didn’t talk about references. But Guillaume and I, for sure we love Michael Mann films, and there is certainly an unconscious influence.



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