Interview with Olivier Bayu Gandrille, director of TNT
Friday 28 January 2022, by ,
During the 2005 French riots, four young students from the banlieu on the outskirts of Paris hear about an old urban legend: that of Paupaul, the rapist of the woods, who would attack young people from poor neighborhoods to keep them away from rich ones. As the All Saints’ Day vacations loom, they set themselves a challenge: to go through the woods to check out the existence of the legend.
Why did you choose to set the story during the 2005 riots?
It wasn’t so much a choice as a desire to stay true to my operating principle: my initial intention was to talk about a part of my teenage years in the suburbs of Paris. As it happens, those years were strongly marked by the deaths of Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré and by the riots of 2005 that were key events for young people in the affected cities. For many, they represented a sort of sudden, violent awakening. That’s exactly the watershed moment I’m trying to explore in my film.
And why did you want to tackle those questions from a pretty supernatural angle?
The supernatural angle comes mainly from my desire to stay at a child’s level. This film explores the feeling of fear – the fear of racism, fear of the police – and in children, that feeling is most often expressed through fantastical figures and tales.
How did you come up with Paupaul?
Paupaul was a real urban legend in my middle school. So I didn’t come up with it, but I tried to understand what he embodied and why he existed. By attacking only non-white kids, he quite clearly personified a fear of racism but the leged especially revealed just how much we, as second-generation children, already had a “preconscious” of our skin color and therefore a “preconscious” of the dangers that entailed.
How did you go about working with your young actors?
The casting director, Marie Cantet, undertook a long open casting before finding our actors. She had to unearth the personalities that corresponded to the characters I’d written because it would have been absurd of me to ask young, non-professional actors to play character studies. After that, there were several weeks of rehearsals which were meant to get them acclimated to acting and establish trust. There were very few “technical” exercises because I was convinced that the appropriateness of their acting would come from their desire to act and from their attentiveness.
What sorts of topics and genres appeal to you as a filmmaker?
There are no topics or genres that particularly appeal to me. In fact, I’d say I’m most attracted to films that blur boundaries and are difficult to pin down. When I come up with the idea for a film, I don’t think about its subject or what genre it is. I try, as best I can, to let them emerge on their own.
Is there a particular short film that has made a strong impression on you?
Short films by great filmmakers, such as Chris Marker’s La Jetée, The Fall by Jonathan Glazer, etc. And ones by great artists: (Sans titre) Masque Humain by Pierre Huyghe, and so on. And ones by friends of mine. I recommend Jules Follet’s Waterfountain and Comment faire pour [How To]. Other than those, I think the last one that spoke to me was Vincent Fantano’s Blaké. Certain images (the sick dog, the wanderings in the parking lot) stayed with me long after I saw the film.
What’s your definition of a good film?
For me, a good film is a film that’s consumed by the search for relevance. Beyond the fact that I find the practice of groping around and digging very communicative, when you make a discovery in a film, everything starts resonating. To sum it all up, I think a good film is a film that searches and miraculously finds. Not a programmatic film that knows ahead of time where it’s going and what it wants to express. It’s very clear to me that the author is not more intelligent than the viewer: he doesn’t have “knowledge” that only he possesses and that he confers upon the viewer. Finally, I think the best one can do is simply to take the viewer along on one’s journey for relevance and come what may.