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Metropole

About this film

A man walks nervously up and down in his apartment. He is looking for something; in drawers, in a big suitcase, in books. In a small locked chest, he finds two passports. Are they his? Where does he come from? Who is he?

Having arrived in Paris in 1985, Hector did everything to be like “them”. In a notebook he finds in his flat, he crosses out a list of things he should do or pay attention to if he wants to become part of the French elite. In a painful dialogue with Martin, his alleged son, Hector notices himself in Martin; a young man full of dreams and ideals that turn out not to be matched by reality.

Metropole is a film about migration, about assimilation, about the haunting of one’s past. It is a film about identity; lost, assumed, false. Metropole tells the story of millions of people out there who leave their homes behind in order to find a new one.

Nadin Mai (tao films)

Interview with the Director
First of all, I would like to know more about you two because of the specific subject matter of your film. I know that Virginie lives in Lebanon.

Ozal: Virginie and I met when we were freelance journalists - Virginie still is a journalist, now in Beirut. Sometimes, you meet the right person at the right time, this is how I feel about my encounter with Virginie. We had the same will of working in the field of video, especially in fiction for me. Virginie's always been a traveler, interested in other cultures and I've been raised in a quite cosmopolitan family. Our common taste for what is mixed, different and undefined lead us to work together and, I guess, build the story of Hector. Plus, with Metropole, we wanted to have a more professional approach of doing a film than with our last works: a real screenplay, actors and not just friends, and a (very little) crew. From the start, we were sure about one thing: we wanted to do it our way, with our own rhythm. That meant we had to make this film without asking any state subsidy or without searching for a hypothetical producer. In that way, we could shoot as soon as we - and no one else - decided we were ready! Of course, this has been possible thanks to the kindness and commitment of the crew who accepted to work without being paid.

Virginie: I remember exactly when I met Ozal. As she mentioned, I also have the feeling that it was a determining encounter. Both of us were working in the same newspaper in Paris - since then, I moved to Lebanon more than one year ago. From the time we started to hang out, I realised we shared a common strong interest for the visual field but none of us until then dared to, or at least took the time to, make anything out of it. We quite quickly decided to create something together and after a few small works in video, we thought about making a short movie. We had something to express and Metropole appeared as a necessary way to do it.

How did you find your subject? I can imagine that it developed organically.

Ozal: It may seem strange but when I think about it, yes, it's like the subject chose us. I mean, we knew we wanted to talk about several themes: exile, betrayal, identity. Something like a tragedy really! We had in mind movies of James Gray who we are in love with. And we had this beginning: a man locks himself in an apartment, someone is looking for him and he knows he's going to die. That's it! And then, writing the script, what we knew about the actor - Alex Descas - who would play the role inspired us greatly. Alex Descas arrived as a child in Paris from the West Indies, in the sixties. So very quickly, the story took us to the tricky relationship between Metropolitan France and its Caribbean territories. It became the frame to talk about identity. I then remembered my grandmother - who came from a French Island in the West Indies, la Martinique - telling me about the cold weather when arriving in Paris, and the dirtiness of the cheap hotel where she stayed. Three months later, she asked her mother to take her back and the woman refused. Back then, Metropolitan France seemed the best option for a lot of people in the French West Indies.

Virginie: The interesting point is that the subject of Metropole was already inside each of us. We quickly pointed out the same themes we wanted to develop in our movie, that is to say exile, identity issues linked to a place you moved to and that is not yours originally, dealing with a past you tried to evacuate, a sort of introspection. Ozal told me she wrote few lines about this topic years ago, and these lines were lost somewhere on her computer. We read it together and started to build around this. We directly thought about Alex Descas as the main character and the fact he accepted to play in Metropole also determined in a way our writing process. The remainder of the story followed on from this quite organically.

Metropole is narrative-driven. Your protagonist, Hector Loden, speaks about his experience. The way you use his memories kind of upsets our expectations. I had thought you would use a voice-over, and perhaps a lot of other filmmakers would have used it. But instead you have him speak on-screen, to himself. Why did you approach his memories in such a way?

Ozal: I don't know if it was really a choice or just something obvious to us. Hearing the voice, I mean the soul, of Hector was crucial for us. Making him speak on-screen seemed to be the best way to be as close as possible to him. Hector is so upset and alone that he speaks to himself out loud. But also, he is kind of outside his own story. His life and story is coming to an end, therefore he becomes his own narrator. To us, this choice allowed the audience to have direct access - even to touch in a way - to Hector's interiority.

Virginie: A voice-over is of course really useful but using it throughout a full movie is maybe the easy solution and could, in the end, lose the audience at some point. Having Hector speaking on-screen is exactly a way to cut the expectations and also to give his memories more impact as they are directly embodied by the character.

Why did you single out your protagonist? I reckon that his story is not necessarily unique but rather a piece in the larger picture of migration. Given the release date of your film which coincided with the European refugee crises, I wonder whether your film was some sort of contribution to artistic responses to this, but shown from another, from a larger angle.

Ozal: The idea of the story was to depict the last moments of a lonely man. Why? I don't know. I guess we chose this form because it seemed to be a great challenge in terms of narration. How to tell a story with only one character? From this interrogation were born all our narrative choices: voice-over, flashback in images but also in sounds etc. When we began to write the script, back in 2014, the migrant crisis was already there indeed but I cannot say we had it in mind while working on Metropole. In a way, we could say the story found an echo in the ever-growing debate in France about immigration and French identity. For a long time, migrants in France have been asked to put aside their own culture. And they did, convinced it was the best thing to do. But beyond immigration issues, Metropole is about a man who decided to disguise himself, to wear a mask. A mask that he then couldn't take off. This is also the tragedy of Hector.

Virginie: Regarding the first part of the question, I would say that what interested us was to focus really deeply on the inside of our protagonist’s head, someone who is going to live his last moments: what are his fears, his hopes, how does he judge his own life considering it with hindsight. Though we did not deliberately write the script thinking about the current (different) refugee crises, I guess it is a topic that affects us, that it influenced our choices in a more or less unconscious way.

“I look like them at last.” This is the most poignant part of Hector’s monologue. It’s painful, but at the same time it says a lot about immigration.

Ozal: Yes, it is very painful. There is something very violent in cutting your ties with your culture and forget who you have been so far in order to “fit” in a new place. This is what Hector did, in the name of integration and social success. This sentence not only talks about immigration though, but about social class too. With Hector, there is the issue of getting the codes of a specific class: the upper class. So he “erased” not only his native culture - getting rid of his accent for instance - but also his social bond.

Virginie: This sentence is indeed very heavy in a sense that it encloses a long reflection that makes Hector realise how, on paper, he did succeed in integrating the social codes he wanted to, but in the end, that all of this does not make him feel happy though. That «be like them» is not an end by itself as soon as you erase who you have been before.

What this film also demonstrates quite clearly is that you can physically leave your home but that home will always travel with you. In a way, it can be haunting. I find that “Metropole” is a film very much about haunting.

Ozal: This is interesting and I agree. Hector is haunted by his past, his island, his love and by the choices he made. I guess this could be an aspect of exile: an exiled person is there and not there at the same time, haunting a place, an eye always behind, a foot always elsewhere. And in a way, we could say that, as an exiled man, Hector is kind of a ghost, haunted and haunting.

Virginie: Yes, your past will always follow you even if you put all your efforts to bury it in a remote part of yourself. I guess the main difficulty as an exiled person is to learn how to deal with your personal hauntings while carrying on living somewhere else.

What are your next projects? Will you continue to work in this direction, perhaps even with Hector?

Ozal: Well, after Metropole I decided to quit journalism for good and make films, again and again! I wrote a new short-film, a bit longer than Metropole and that I hope to shoot next Spring. This time I have a producer and a calendar that is not always mine... The story is following a sister and a brother, both mixed-raced, whose the Caribbean father recently left Metropolitan France to go back to his native island. So yes, I continue to explore the issue of double culture and cultural heritage! And one of the secondary character is named... Hector.

Virginie: I started to write something about the question of exile once again but this time, it is a more personal project as it is about my own exiles let’s say. I don’t really know what I am going to do with this stuff, if I will transform it into a visual object or leave it as a written work. At the same time, I took part in different projects in Lebanon that are more on the documentary side. Metropole made me realise how terrific it is to build a story from the beginning to the end and, more generally, how I want to delve into the visual field.