“Escape from the world to find yourself”

The cross : How did you discover Paolo Cognetti’s book?

Felix Van Groeningen : He was introduced to me. They had thought of me, followingAlabama Monroe. I fell in love with it and the ending shocked me.

Charlotte Vandermeersch : We didn’t want to change the ending of the book. Bruno, the character of the mountaineer, will continue to cross the world, to find his place. And Pietro, the character of the city dweller, to accept that a mountain rises before him beyond which no return is possible. Accept the disappearance of loved ones, mourning, pain. We both lost our fathers. What is mourning? What is friendship? What is love ? How to resolve to accept the choices of the other? These are the questions around which we revolved.

How do you work together?

F.v. G. : First, we wanted to work together. Charlotte made a lot of comments to me after the first version of the screenplay. It is together that we have found the solutions to improve it. We have remained faithful to the book, without avoiding the opposition between city and nature, old world and new world.

resume : The story is epic, yet simple. We didn’t want to follow a common thread but keep everything from the book. And filming the four seasons in the mountains to translate the passage of time.

F.v. G. : I’m quite nervous, not at all patient in the writing phase, and I don’t want to let go. I had never directed a film that I had not written. Sometimes I get stuck for several days. It’s simmering inside me and better ideas are popping up. Charlotte helps me unblock myself and our duo works very well that way.

At the Cannes Film Festival and in the press kit, you insist on the difficulties that your couple encountered at the start of this project. Why do you want to say it?

resume : We were then in a difficult period to talk to each other. There was a great need to make the film.

F.v. G. : We had lost sight of each other. We found ourselves around this project, marked by the purity and honesty of the characters. We were going through the period of confinement relating to the Covid, without being able to escape. Upon arrival, I asked Charlotte to co-direct this film which had brought us together again, shot as a family, with our still very young son, immersed far from home, on the peaks of Val d’Aosta, in Italy. .

resume : Either our couple broke up or it came out strengthened. There was something broken between us and we were looking for a way to reunite. This project helped us do that. We came out of our egos to think and work together.

How, coming from the flat country, did you find yourself in this universe of mountains?

F.v. G. : Charlotte has always been an adventurer. I know the mountains well, having lived there for a long time. I spent a large part of my youth there. I learned to understand why some make the decision to live alone at the foot of the peaks. Very high and far from everything. In this book, I found many themes that were familiar to me, such as finding your place in the world, knowing where you come from, where you want to go. The film came at a time when I needed to recharge my batteries, far from the ambient cynicism.

resume : I have traveled to India and the Himalayas. For this film, I called on my memories of a very long trip to the Amazon on a small boat. These two experiences are comparable. Find yourself far from the world in an environment that is still very pure and preserved. Where the locals fight with the environment but live with nature. Paolo Cognetti, the author of the novel, was 30 years old. He was depressed and wanted to live in the truth, to find an authenticity. He isolated himself far from the world. He escaped to find himself.

In your film, the simplicity of life seems to constitute the epic of existence.

resume : Yes, because small moments have a big influence in life.


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