Speaking out

Joachim Lafosse on power and shame in A Silence

by Amber Wilkinson

Daniel Auteil in A Silence. Joachim Lafosse on Auteil taking the role: 'A lot of other famous French actors refused'
Daniel Auteil in A Silence. Joachim Lafosse on Auteil taking the role: 'A lot of other famous French actors refused'
Joachim Lafosse turns his attention to sex abuse skeletons in a family closet in A Silence. Emmanuelle Devos is a force to be reckoned with as upper middle-class wife Astrid, who has hidden her high-profile lawyer husband’s seedy secret for years. Beginning as her teenage son (Matthieu Galoux) is charged with attempted murder, the film circles back to see what led him to breaking point. Co-starring Daniel Auteil as the lawyer who thinks he’s above the law, the film had its world premiere at San Sebastian Festival, when we caught up with Lafosse to talk about it.

The film draws on a real-life Belgian case that became known as ​​the Hissel Affair and Lafosse said: “When I discovered the true story. I felt like I would like to be the lawyer of Astrid, because for me, she’s a victim also of this sexual crime. And important to where you have two generations of women. Before Me Too, the power of silence and the pressure was different.

“Also I can imagine if you discovered a crime like that, first you are completely shocked, the trauma arrives. Even if you are not the people who are sexually abused. You have the story of the poison of the crime. And that's not the same poison for Astrid and her daughter.”

He adds: “I think to condemn or to someone who doesn’t have the force to speak is not a good way to encourage other people to speak up. Because if you know that you can be judged, maybe you prefer to stay in silence.”

Joachim Lafosse on the set of A Silence: 'After 15 years of psychoanalysis, I decided, in fact, to do a movie about the shame.'
Joachim Lafosse on the set of A Silence: 'After 15 years of psychoanalysis, I decided, in fact, to do a movie about the shame.'
Speaking about Auteil’s character, who spends his time working on the cases of other victims of sexual abuse, he said, “He’s a real pervert”. He added: “That’s because he believes in redemption and works for victims when, in fact, he’s a criminal. He said real perverse words to his wife. ‘You understand me, you are the only one who supports me’. In fact, he proposed to her a sort of narcissistic elevation.”

He notes that he wanted to make a movie “without sensationalism” but “with empathy” and it's notable how stripped back the atmosphere of the film feels. While other directors might have lent into the melodrama, Lafosse instead opts for long takes and a more measured pace in general.

Lafosse said: “When I work on these sorts of subjects, I refuse to be spectacular. If you show a violent image to the audience, that's like if you see a terrible accident on the street, during the day, you have the image of the accident, and you stop to think that's the reality of the trauma. As the director I never want to give a violent image. But I would like to show the effect of a violent situation. And to propose to each spectator that she or he is also the director of the movie. But with my four principal characters, it's important not to judge.”

The actor added that while he is judging Daniel Auteil’s character, he doesn’t want to judge Astrid or others in the film. Arguably, Auteil was brave in talking on the role of such a dislikeable character and Lafosse said the part was turned down by others.

“A lot of other famous French actors refused,” he said, adding that some of them liked the script but refused to do it because “it was dangerous”.

It’s not the first time that Lafosse has dealt with abuse, with assault of an adolescent explored in 2008’s Private Lessons. He said: That’s an autobiographical story, I didn’t tell that a lot during the promotion, but that’s maybe why I began to write this one.”

Emmanuelle Devos as Astrid in A Silence. Joachim Lafosse: 'When I work on these sorts of subjects, I refuse to be spectacular'
Emmanuelle Devos as Astrid in A Silence. Joachim Lafosse: 'When I work on these sorts of subjects, I refuse to be spectacular'

He added: “The people who knew me when I was 16, nobody spoke to me. The silence arrived after the movie. Nobody ever said to me, ‘Oh, are you Okay?” Nobody spoke about what I showed and I felt shame.

“And after 15 years of psychoanalysis, I decided, in fact, to do a movie about the shame. About my shame and the shame of Astrid and maybe the shame of my mother. Because it’s not the perverts who have the shame. But it's not possible to refuse the shame, no,the shame arrived. In fact, you have shame because you don't love you. You think that people don't believe you or you believe that you provoked the situation.”

Lafosse said the silence of the film’s title refers to the “silence between the family and society”. He added that in order to succeed in helping people come forward about this sort of crime, have to “listen well” and “think about where the shame comes from”.

He added: “I would also like to show with the movie that to have education, money, a beautiful house is a big power to authorise the crime. That's that's also the situation in a country where you have populist politicians, they propose simple solutions for complex problems. For me, Daniel’s character is a sort of guy like that, a man who knows that with the position of the hero, maybe he’ll succeed in having a good mask.”

  • Read our interview with Emmanuelle Devos about A Silence

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