Toronto Q&A: Our Day Will Come's Romain Gavras

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You can tell how people feel about French filmmaker Romain Gavras in an instant: Just mention the music videos he did for the techno group Justice or the recent M.I.A. song "Born Free" (that'd be the one in which redheads are rounded up and summarily executed). Most people will either passionately proclaim he's one of the boldest, most brilliant young directors working in that form today, or go into an apoplectic rage, screaming that he's a provocateur who likes to push viewers' buttons. His directorial debut, Our Day Will Come, created a similar reaction among moviegoers at this year's Toronto Film Festival; walking out of the film's Sunday night premiere, you could hear people declaring that Gavras (the son of filmmaker Costa-Gavras) was a genius and that he deserved to get punched in the face. Whichever side of the fence you fell on, though, it was unlikely that his road movie and self-described "romantic comedy" about a young redhead (Olivier Barthelemy) and a carrot-topped yuppie (Vincent Cassel) who deal with ginger-related prejudice left you unfazed. (See our critic's take here.) The director spoke to TONY while in Toronto.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Toronto Film Festival

Time Out New York: You've said that the basis for this story was the desire to do a story about outcasts.... How did the film progress from that to two redheads wreaking havoc around France?
Romain Gavras: Basically, I started thinking about the idea of someone quitting everything and leaving society behind. What happens when you have all this energy and decide to "go for it"—but you have very vague, confused goals and no idea what "it" is? And from there, I started to picture these two specific characters—this bored middle-class guy and this younger guy—embarking on this impossible quest to go to Ireland to escape persecution. Things just sort of built from there.

Time Out New York: At the postscreening Q&A, someone asked you what the "takeaway" was from the movie, and you replied: "Confusion."
Romain Gavras: Yeah, and everyone laughed, because they thought I was kidding. I wasn't! The film is not a message movie: "You know, racism is very bad! End the war!" I don't have any pretensions of trying to teach the audience something obvious or hippyish like that. If people are confused about the film at the end or are uncomfortable with not knowing quite what they saw, I'm actually okay with that. I don't think confusion is a bad thing.

Time Out New York: I can see how, in a five-minute music video, people might be okay being confused—or even feeling like they're being assaulted, which I've heard people say about both the Justice and M.I.A. videos. But with a feature film...
Romain Gavras: I remember watching Luis Buuel films as a kid and thinking, What the fuck just happened? But I loved that feeling. But I see what you're saying, and this is not just two hours of free-form anarchy. There is a point to what these guys are doing: They're two people caught up in an absurd world, so the fact that they're going on this absurd, ridiculous journey to Ireland doesn't seem any crazier than the shit happening around them. And I feel like everybody, at one point or another, has had that urge to just stop everything and take off...to just hit the road and do something that seems absolutely crazy and futile. So I feel like people can relate to these guys. Or maybe they can't, and they'll be bored by the movie...so be it, I got to make the movie I wanted to make. But you know, for me, it's not about spelling everything out. I hate when movies treat viewers like a Mongoloid child and feel the need to hold their hand from Point A to Point B. You know, "These people are so violent because they were raped by chimpanzees when they were kids!" I don't buy that kind of stuff.

Time Out New York: People will be tempted to read political messages or metaphors in this regardless...you never get into the specifics of why these redheads are being persecuted, but it's easy enough to see a political element to that idea.
Romain Gavras: Everything is political. A Britney Spears video could be interpreted as political; you could easily read images in her videos as saying something about America and its value systems. But if I wanted to be blatantly political, I'd be a politician. [Laughs] This is much more a personal movie than a political one. I'm very confused about the world in my head, so in a way, this film is representative of the confusion about the world I'm dealing with as much as the characters' confusion. And I didn't want to be too heavy on the redheads issue; they are a stand-in for any group that have suffered, but I don't want people to think they equal a racial or ethical group.

Time Out New York: Why redheads, exactly?
Romain Gavras: They stand out visually; if you put redheads in a crowd, you notice them right away. It's an iconic way of saying, "These people are different." It's funny, because the film came long before the M.I.A. video, and people naturally think of the film as an extension. I mean, we actually took the name from some graffiti you see in that video; we didn't have a name for the movie, and I remember seeing "Our day will come" scrawled on a wall where we were shooting after the movie was done. I thought, Wow, now I have my title! But other than the idea of going after gingers, there's not really a connection. I hate to use the word gimmick, but it's the same gimmick. And like the M.I.A. clip, there's no clear sense of what has happened to lead up to this persecution. You're just in it. But to answer your question, using redheads was a way of talking about being a social outcast without having to be stuck within certain codes. For example, Arabs are still being persecuted in France. So if you decide to make a film about Arabs being persecuted, you have to acknowledge that their suffering is rooted in very real, very horrible situations. The movie becomes "This is what it's like to be an Arab in France today." With redheads, however, you can touch on prejudice but are free to look at other issues.

Time Out New York: Though Vincent's character says some pretty racist things...
Romain Gavras: He's only doing that just to stir shit up. He doesn't believe those things; he know it will push people's buttons, and that he will get a rise out of people, which is why he says those horrible things.

Time Out New York: So...you do realize that people are simply going to draw comparisons between you and this character, right? They will just say you're trying to stir shit up and be a shock artist without meaning any of it.
Romain Gavras: I mean, as long as artist is emphasized in "shock artist," then I guess that's okay. [Laughs] No, seriously, it's not like I'm looking at a blank page and thinking, So what can I do to shock people? Throw in Nazis and whores? Great, then I'll do that. I understand that people might be shocked by my music videos.... I'm not naive, so of course I realize that five minutes of what seems like raw violence is going to disturb people. But with the film, it was never my intention to simply get a rise out of people. This isn't just two guys who are going on a rampage. I've referred to the film as being very romantic, which makes people laugh. But I'm not joking. I feel like the tenderness these characters show each other, and how they try to get to a better place where they feel like they won't have to be different or suffer... I think that's beautiful, really. It's not like the violence that is in the film is "cool," you know. It's awkward and not very cathartic. The most shocking thing in the film is that you're not getting a strong moral opinion from me. But I love those types of films that don't rub your face in the moral opinions.

Time Out New York: The movie opens in France this Friday; given the controversy the Justice and M.I.A. videos attracted, what do you think the reception will be like?
Romain Gavras: I have no idea. Critics and audiences in France are very polarized, so I imagine they were either really love it or really hate it. [Pause] Unless the audience is filled with redheads. Then we'll have a hit.


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