Unspoken truths

Emmanuelle Devos on denial and gesture in A Silence

by Amber Wilkinson

Emmanuelle Devos on playing Astrid in A Silence: 'She doesn't want to see her world crumble. I also tried to imagine that she had a tough childhood and that her priority is to hold her family together'
Emmanuelle Devos on playing Astrid in A Silence: 'She doesn't want to see her world crumble. I also tried to imagine that she had a tough childhood and that her priority is to hold her family together' Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival
The warring emotions of Emmanuelle Devos' Astrid lie at the heart of Joachim Lafosse's latest drama A Silence, which asks us to consider why she keeps her high-profile husband's (Daniel Auteuil) secret for so long. Beginning as her teenage son (Matthieu Galoux) is charged with attempted murder, the film circles back to see what led him to breaking point. We caught up with Devos after the film had its world premiere in competition at San Sebastian Film Festival to talk about creating the character.

Speaking about the attitude of Astrid, she says her character has been constructing this mental attitude for 30 years.

“I compare it to a frog in cold water, which you put on the fire. The frog does not realise that it's really heating up and that it's going to be burnt alive - it's not as if you throw the frog in the boiling water.

She adds: “She was probably really in love with him. And what happened, she probably considered that it was like an accident in time and something that would not happen again in the rest of her life. That's until she discovers that he actually visits those paedophile sites. That is a moment in the film, in which this couple does not really speak together any more. But she's a woman who tries to move through the walls of the house. I refuse the word 'accomplice', she's just trying to hold things together.

Emmanuelle Devos in San Sebastian
Emmanuelle Devos in San Sebastian Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival/Jorge Fuembuena
“People can be in denial about a lot of things, and this is something that I personally witnessed in my life, about big things and more trivial things. She doesn't want to see her world crumble. I also tried to imagine that she had a tough childhood and that her priority is to hold her family together.”

The film has an interesting dynamic in terms of actors, in that Devos and Auteuil are very well-established while Galoux is a newcomer to acting.

“I've already played twice with Daniel, in The Adversary, by Nicole Garcia, which was about Jean-Claude Romand, who killed his wife and children just because of a lie. So I felt confident that he would help us because he accepted the role. The fact that it was Daniel, I thought, would make it believable that she loved this man more than anything. Daniel is a really seductive person so it made it really believable. Matthieu is just a very nice young man and the three of us got on really well. That really helped a lot for the harmony on set.”

The film, although a fiction, does draw on the real-life story of what became known as the Hissel Affair in Belgium, in which a high-profile lawyer acting for a family after their children were killed by paedophile Marc Dutroux, was revealed to have a dark secret of his own.

Devos says although she only read a bit about the specific case, she also watched documentaries about the way that mothers have reacted in similar cases.

She adds: “What is always really startling is that they always always react in these incredibly strange ways. I was totally surprised. There's a Netflix documentary My Daughter's Killer about the stepfather who who was a doctor and he would anaesthetise the daughter of his new girlfriend to rape her and he gave her too much and she died. The mother did not see it coming here at all, when she was told she was completely dumbfounded. And I think you just don't want to see the horror that is inside your home.”

The character of Astrid is built as much on silence as it is on script and Devos says “I prefer less dialogue”. She adds: “I prefer to play with body language, eyes and the mood. For me it's the perfect art - it's like a silent film and it's very interesting for an actor to play like that. The camera needs to read your thoughts so you need to have someone who is able to film that.”

  • Read what Joachim Lafosse told us about power and shame in A Silence

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