Roberto Minervini defends his film “The Damned” at the Cannes Film Festival

In this film which shows the war in its simplest expression, without spectacle, without heroes and without glory, we follow the advance during the winter of 1862 of a Union battalion, sent to scout the still wild lands of Montana.

The waiting, the boredom, the fear of soldiers, for some still children, this is what this remarkable film by Italian director Roberto Minervini shows, who continues with this first fiction film his documentary work on America.

Shortly after the official screening of his film on Thursday, Roberto Minervini spoke to franceinfo Culture about his impressions of Cannes and what motivated this first war film, very radical in its staging, in total opposition to the genre.

Franceinfo Culture: what did you want to say with this first fiction film?

Roberto Minervini: There are several ideas behind this film. First of all, it’s about cinema, and war films. My idea was to make a genre film, questioning certain precepts of the genre. I wanted to overturn these very “Machiavellian” stories, which depict good against evil, the eradication of evil as a justification for war, all these films in which the good cause once again justifies murder, and which depicts heroism, martyrdom, and toxic hypermasculinity. All these representations are obviously dehumanized. Whereas war, real war, is human beings who will die. So the idea was to reverse these representations, to deconstruct them. And the other idea concerns America, in a more sociological approach.

America today?

Yes. It’s about seeing where America is today. As this new election approaches, America faces uncertainty. Certain values ​​have become unclear for Americans. We wonder. What will happen to you? There is pressure to institutionalize Christianity, including in schools, a religious tendency which prevails over republican laws. We saw it with what happened with women’s rights and abortion. And then we see the justice system, like the Supreme Court, becoming a political tool. So I thought it would be interesting to go back through the history of the United States. How did it all start? Where is democracy, so fragile? So I went back in time to focus on a time when people didn’t really know why they were fighting, who they were fighting against and what their values ​​were: the Civil War. So that’s really the genesis of the project.

Other films, like Civil War, but also books, imagine a new civil war, Is there this fear in the United States?

There was January 6, 2021. Part of the people attempted a coup d’état, by taking the Capitol, so talking about civil war is no longer a novel, fiction or any “romanticization” of the facts . This is something that sent shockwaves across America. And so now Americans fear division. Trump’s first term brought opprobrium to media institutions, and that’s never good for democracy. This can lead to totalitarianism. And now, what’s more, we know that Trump could return to power. These are facts. This is where America is today.

I just wonder what will happen after the election and I think that uncertainty and division is indeed present and expressed in the film. The January 6 attackers did not know exactly why they were acting. They were told that their freedoms were being taken away, they were told that the communists were threatening them, they were told what to do, and they did it… That’s also a bit of what the soldiers of the Civil War had. lived. There is a real parallelism between the two eras.

You show the war in a very special way, going against the grain of what we are used to seeing in the cinema, why?

Normalizing war, and normalizing death, is very dangerous. In our culture, we become desensitized by seeing the spectacle of war. The fact that combat can become a spectacle horrifies me. This is simply immoral. One of the most immoral things in the world.

“I think that in war films, particularly in American war films, there is a tendency to mythologize war and that is probably why these films are heavily focused on combat. So the idea was to create a fiction that begins with waiting.”

Roberto Minervini

at franceinfo Culture

Show the expectation of the inevitable conflict, and the expectation of death, because we know perfectly well that some of the soldiers will not survive. This expectation reinforces the feeling of despair, of the inevitability of the fight, and really accentuates this brutal and rapid moment of the fight. I wanted to express this feeling of absurd brutality, and for that I needed this moment of humanity, of waiting, of silence, which gives time to reflect on the inevitability of war. Once it takes place, this short, single fight scene resonates throughout the film. You only need to hear the gunshots once, see the soldiers flee and be afraid once, to understand the brutality of it all. That was the concept.

I wanted at all costs to avoid the pyrotechnic spectacle, which once again does nothing, other than normalize the war, to desensitize us. Which I repeat, is for me totally immoral!

Little action, a very slow pace, few dialogues, are you not afraid of destabilizing the public with a cinema that goes against everything they are used to seeing? ?

It is indeed a risk. War film is a very popular genre, which people love a lot. As a director I feel a great responsibility, and I try to have ethics in the practice of my work. If I say that war films, which feature heroes, are a political instrument that allows wars to exist, in fact that could make me unpopular. Especially since I deliver this speech through cinema, an entertainment medium, a popular medium. But I have no other choice. I know that I have to make films that please, that must be appreciated by the public, but what I need above all is to be able to sleep soundly, to feel good about myself, and to be able to look shamelessly at myself in the mirror.

No compromise?

No, I can’t compromise, otherwise I probably wouldn’t do cinema, but politics!

You gave a very particular texture to the image, why?

Always for the same reasons which are at the origin of the film. I wanted this film to fit into a genre, that of war cinema, but in a different approach, with a different language. For this, I adopted certain codes of this kind, such as the color palette, the uniforms, the large spaces, the music, the sounds. All these aesthetic choices immediately place the film in the war film genre. Then, within this framework, I could free myself from other codes, basically, I could deconstruct them. That’s what interested me.

Until now you have mainly made documentaries, this is your first fiction feature film, why did you try this experience and did it make you want to make others?

Yes, I find that there is something liberating in the creation of fiction, which allowed me to make these great ellipses, to build a bridge between two eras, between the past and the present. There is a freedom in fiction that we do not have, or less, in documentary, which imposes great rigor and constraints in the writing. But it’s not really a first dive into fiction, because I’ve already worked on territories that oscillate between documentary and fiction. So I think it’s more of a natural evolution of my work. And yes there will undoubtedly be others.

Your film received a standing ovation on Thursday during the official screening, what did you feel and how does it feel to be in Cannes?

During this premiere, I had a very strange feeling, it was almost unreal. I felt very calm. During the screening, at one point I stopped looking at the screen, And I started to observe the people in the room, who were watching my film, very attentive. I allowed myself to be absorbed by this experience, until I completely dissociated myself from everything that was happening around me. Qhen the lights came back on, and the audience applauded, I didn’t understand what was happening, I lost perception of what was unfolding in front of me, and I am asked if the public reception was really positive, or not, whether the applause had lasted for a few seconds or for long time.

“I had lost track of time. And then at one point, I turned around to my team and I saw that some of them were crying. Only then did I feel an emotion.”

Roberto Minervini

at franceinfo Culture

They were the ones who reconnected me to what was happening around me. Jhave hasduring realse Also what it’s like to be at the Cannes Film Festival, this event where all the actors of the cinema industry meet, Lcritics from all over the world, connoisseurspeople who take cinema very seriously. Tou these people were applauding my film ! JI felt really happyvery happy to be taken seriously. VYou might think I’m a little melodramatic, a little romantic, but what do you want, I’m Italian !

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