Interview with Janloup Bernard, director of J’avais un camarade [I Had a Comrade]
Sunday 27 February 2022, by ,
Upon his arrival at a prestigious military high school, Woyzeck, an officer’s son, meets Bakary, a student from a modest background with whom he will share a room. During a night of integration, the two boys will try to find their place in the Family, a group of influential students.
Why did you choose a military school as the setting for your story? Is it an environment that you know well?
In my previous short films, I have already explored exclusively male environments. In choosing a military institution as the setting, I wanted to explore the theme of virility in a more radical and stylized way. Some members of my family have attended these schools, I was young and overheard a mysterious and distant echo. I had to do some research to get up to date for the writing of this film. But it is a well protected world.
What did you want to explore through Bakary’s character?
Bakary is a class defector and a military fanatic: he is fascinated by the military world and absolutely wants to become integrated in it. He’ll learn at his own expense that merit alone is not enough.
How did the casting for the main and secondary roles take place?
For the three main roles it was quite conventional. For the traditionalist family and the group of freshmen, it was a bit more complicated, but I was able to count on the help of Laeticia Genton to find motivated young extras from the Lot-et-Garonne, and the help of Manon Hirigoyen to form a homogenous group, especially through the work that revolved around singing.
As a filmmaker, what topics or genres do you like to address?
I imagine that it’s different for each project. Often, I have a “realistic” interest in an environment or in characters, and then I try to find the most suitable approach to tell their stories.
Is there a particular short film that has made a strong impression on you?
For J’avais un camarade, I rewatched The Big Shave by Scorsese. It’s pretty impressive that it was his graduation film project. It is a very radical, very formal film and, at the same time, a terrible commentary on its time.
What’s your definition of a good film?
If only I knew…