In 1994 you made a film about Ulrike Meinhof who was the mastermind of the Red Army Faction in Germany. In 2004 you present Before the Night, a film about ways and ethics of armed struggle, while the question of greek terrorism is still on all minds after the recent dismantling of the 17th November group. Why choose this subject already? Isn't ittoo early? One could object that History should judge these things first.
I do not judge, I inquire. As in my documentary films, I don't pretend to know, I try to understand. I am a citizen like everybody else, but as a filmmaker I have the duty to challenge television's exclusivity on a subject that concerns us all. The film treats with the question of terrorism, but it questions society's reaction to this phenomenon rather than to show the more spectacular aspects (bombings, arrests etc.) that TV presents us with until we get sick. Before the Night is a film that tries to show responsability.
The story is set in a global context. There are two important dates: the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, signifying the hope that totalitarian ideologies had come to an end; and 9/11/2001 where everything changes since a barbarous crime committed by a few islamic fundamentalists provides the pretext for a large-scale attack on civil liberties and for launching global war.
So I imagined for this film a character, Maria, who in her youth had sincerely believed in urban guerrilla warfare but had understood the error early enough to get out of it in time. Her past, of course, gets hold of her again, she has to flee but never looses her dignity. She is helped by a person who, contrary to most of the people, refuses to be manipulated by fear.
But terrorism is not the only theme in my film which deals also with other problems of contemporary society. Scientific progress, for example, who might threaten Man whom it is supposed to help. Daphne, the second character of Before the Night, is confronted with an unbearable decision that rises the same ethical question in a more tragic context: can there be a situation where the absolute interdiction to kill looses sense?
And finally there is a third, more utopian character in my film, Anne. There, everything is about love. Her passion transcends the two other stories in a poetic way.
There are three characters in
Before the Night. Anne throws her shadow over the film like a phantom. Maria is considered by society to be a criminal but wants to live and not only to survive. And Daphne leads a hollow life while keeping the secret of a murder. What have they in common?
Their loneliness. They have different answers to that but they are comitted to opposing society that isolates them. They want to be free and believe that human dignity is inalienable. Law is not always synonymous with justice. They challenge established conventions and accept to confront difficult choices, they take on the responsability for what they do. Which is uncommon these days…
There is a kind of happy ending since the character who wants to live (Maria) escapes death.
Unfortunately I don't see a happy ending. Daphne has to die in order to free herself from her secret. She sacrifices herself for Maria who survives but will be arrested and has to live forever on with the idea of Daphne's death without even knowing why she has been saved by her friend. In a way, while she hasn't killed anybody in the years of armed struggle, she now kills Daphne without wanting it.
Anne lives in western metropolis at a time when winds of change were sweeping the city and our lives. Daphne, a few years later, finds herself in a more provincial environment. Today, Maria is on the run, out in the wilds, but sounds and noises of the city surround her.
So Anne, as a conclusion, evokes the "suns broken by the cold" before she disappears herself, litteraly "vanishing" from the image.
But I don't consider Before the Night to be desperate film. The characters are fighting a state of things that certainly is desperate. But they experience what it means to fully and truly live their life.
And the story is not everything. My film searches for beauty, from the beginning to the end. Resistance is possible there. Only poetry will save us. This might seem grandiloquent, but I do believe it.
On the one hand, the film is shot in Paris, Berlin, Athens and at the seaside. In this respect historic chronology prevails. The sequences in Greece take place after 9/11/2001. Whereas the s-8 pictures of Berlin have really been shot in 1989, shortly after the fall of the Wall. The Russian soldiers you see, this is really the Red Army in East Berlin. Besides, the filmgrain is different, the black and white is different, emphasizing visually the passage of time.
On the other hand, in the middle of the film, the three stories become intertwined in a large modern city that is neither Athens, Berlin or Paris. It is the city – it follows us whereever we are. Daphne in the countryside and even Maria in the midst of sea find themselves at the heart of the city, at night. The city basically determines our lives.
Some images are recurrent in your film. The sea, the sun, clouds, the moon. Is this all that remains?
Of course not. These are moments of contemplation, incantation. They remind us of an origin. They keep us going.
There seems to be a contradiction. Maria understands clearly that guerilla warfare does not help to achieve her political goals. Daphne, though, follows this path, even if this does not relieve her. On the contrary, she pays for it, probably deliberately.
There is no contradiction. Daphne joins no group, she does not commit herself to armed struggle. She helps Maria out of solidarity and love, not out of political conviction. She doesn't know who Maria is when she takes her in. The anti-terrorist hysteria in the country, the athmosphere of denunciation are revolting to her, yes, and happily so. But in helping Maria she frees herself of bitter memories of her past. She does not calculate the consequences, although she accepts to pay the prize. Does death finally relieve her? I have no answer to that. But it is more important to keep in mind, that by taking the boat with Maria, she is able to escape her hollow existence and to live according to her values. Even if it isn't for long…
Generally speaking, where is your place in contemporary cinema?
The Argentinian novelist Ernesto Sabato said that to achieve a work of art you have to be a bit of a philospher, a bit of a poet and a bit of a terrorist… I feel somewhat akward to quote him since I have not his talent, but this definition of art delights me. It characterizes better than any words that I could find, the approach underlying all my work, fiction or documentary alike.