banner image

:: Spotlight :: Interview with Jean-Paul Salome - Director of Les Femmes de L'Ombre

By: Matthew Pejkovic

Here is an interview with French director, Jean-Paul Salome where he talks about his latest film Les Femmes de L'Ombre.

Sophie Marceau’s character Louise is based upon real life resistance fighter Lise Villemeaur. Were the films other characters also based on specific historic figures?

While it is true that Sophie’s character is based on Lise Villameur’s story, Female Agents is not a true following of that story. It is a fictional story based on a lot of those elements. There is also another character in the movie, Gitelle – who was played by Deborah Francois - who was also based on a real person who was a chemistry student and escaped to England. But with her as well this is not a true story. Many of these characters are based on real people who were triggers for the movie. For example, the story of the real Gitelle did not lead to suicide and did not lead to her selling out her friends, but we used her story and Lise’s story as a foundation to create a movie.

You have assembled a strong cast for Female Agents. When you wrote these characters, did you have specific actors in mind?

No, we did not have actresses in mind as we didn’t want to have obstacles in the writing of the screenplay. With Laurent Vachaud - the screenwriter - we sort of had a technique which is quite different and strange, since we were thinking about actresses which have passed away. When the writing was finished, then we started thinking about which actress could come into the movie.

There are several scenes in the film that depicts the torture of women, which is not common in cinema. Were you wary about the reactions those scenes could inspire in the audience?

I didn’t worry that much about it since it was apart of the project to show that violence was also depicted against women and not only against men. This is the reality of that history. But I am more surprised now about the real impact of those scenes, mostly because the violence in French Agents was depicted against women and in the past cinema has often shown violence towards men and we have become used to it. But when it comes to women it is a completely different approach and it is much more emotionally charged. But what I really want to say is that although those scenes might have been hard to watch, we were not showing a horror movie. The camera moves right before those moments, so we can only imagine when we hear the sound effects, and I think that is a strength of cinema. If it is well done the imagination is much stronger than what we could see on the screen, and that is where I really think the reaction is coming from because the subjects are women.

The violence shown in this movie is not to create pleasure but to show the reality. And unfortunately I think lately that American movies and cinema have taught us to take pleasure in violence, to create an expectation on murders and violence, which brings a different experience to the viewer. Here we want to give the experience to the viewer that can emphasize with these women so that they can put themselves in their shoes and it is an uncomfortable experience to create that sensation.

Active female participation in war is almost a taboo subject. Do you believe a film – or films – such as yours could help break the stigma placed upon women and their role during wars?

It is true that the role of women during war –especially then – was not well known. When I was working on the subject with a historian, I really wanted to understand why that was the case. He told me that it was basically two facts: the first one was that those women – even if they were French women – did not work for the French government, but for the English government, and the government at the time of the liberation of France did not want to put those women, or the bravery of those women forward at all. And the second reason would be from them themselves, as they did their duty of war during that time and once it was done they just wanted to turn the page, to go forward and keep going with their life. On the contrary men continued their lives in the social environment and the political environment, based on the bravery that they had during the war.

On that note, do you support women troops fighting in the frontlines during war?

I don’t really know. It is a difficult situation. Personally I wouldn’t send any men or women to the frontlines. But we really have to understand the situation of the movie, which was set in Nazi occupied France during the Second World War. And it was not that you were going into the frontline to kill someone else. You are in your country and your country is being occupied. What happened here in that situation was that a group of people decided to resist, to fight, to defend themselves against the Nazi occupation and the Nazi environment, and not to move from one place and invade another, which is something quite different. And we need to also understand that during the resistance in France men and women were really defending their ideology. And it was not only grown men and women, but also a lot of very young women and young men who fed the resistance movement as a lot of the population was very passive at the time, while the resistance was very strong thanks to those young people. But for me wars or the uniform is not really my thing.

Les Femmes de L'Ombre is screening at selected cinemas now