Conflict / Reconciliation

Bio /

Les enfants du Blanc (doc) / Les_enfants_du_Blanc.htmlshapeimage_1_link_0
Métisse façon (nouvelles) /  Metisse_facon_%28nouvelles%29.htmlshapeimage_2_link_0

Sarah Bouyain interviewed by

Michel Amarger

Notre étrangère/ The place in between( fiction)Notre_etrangere.htmlthe_place_in_between_synopsis.htmlshapeimage_3_link_0shapeimage_3_link_1

The title, The place in beetwen, is it meant to focus attention on the subject of your film ?

The title is straightforward. But it can be seen from two quite different angles. For the young woman who travels to Burkina what stands out is that of being a stranger.

Why not show the characters and their relationships at the beginning of the film ?

The problem with films about families is that one feels obliged to outline, more or less deftly, the family genealogy - which can seem quite plodding. We tried to simplify the script as much as possible in that sense. A lot of the more explanatory scenes were cut during editing. There is a lot of silence in the film, but there are also some very talkative moments. When we were writing the script we didn’t want those conversations to reveal too much. We wanted them to resemble more a sort of musical chatter. What the characters talk about, what the audience should understand is conveyed by something else.

As for Mariam, in a different way she too is a stranger, having put her life on hold, as it were, over a situation that has never been settled. The film explores the question of being a stranger: a stranger to oneself, a stranger to a culture. There is that slight gap that exists between oneself and others, those in close proximity.

But aren’t the two worlds in your film in conflict?

They are certainly distant from each other, but not dissociable. There are key locations. For example when Amy arrives in Africa, we see her in a tailor’s shop, but we don’t feel any rupture. It is only when she walks outdoors with the tailor and gets on his motorcycle to go to her aunt’s house that we are sure she is in Burkina and not France. Then there is the room in the residence Mariam shares with another woman; it situates itself somewhere between the two worlds, and is one of the bridges or formal links that connects them. These bridges mainly exist in the characters’ minds. The young woman always thought of Burkina because that’s where her mother was. The mother always thinks of Burkina because it is her past, where her daughter was taken from her. Of course it is a painful connection, nourished by nostalgia, but it exists. What connects people is also family, the love we hold for each other.

Tell / Imply

Mother / Daughter

In the film the mother is far from Burkina, far from her daughter, and far from her present environment. Why emphasize her solitude?

She is alone because of all that she carries inside which has yet to be resolved. The film also touches on integration and non-integration. I very much like the parallel between Mariam and her roommate who is from Mali. She is also living in France and is a stranger, but she has adapted. She has hung posters in the room and she has friends; we see her talking on the phone. She has a life while Mariam has none. Mariam has decided to remain in a no man’s land, perhaps to punish herself. Maybe she feels guilty for all that happened with her daughter. All of that makes it impossible for her to live in the present, to be where she is - in France. She refuses to take advantage of her life, and the actress who plays her brings that dimension to the role.

You seem to create an opening through her relationship with Esther to whom she is teaching Dioula. Why break it off so suddenly?

Mariam sees her relationship with Esther as a way of escaping, of experiencing something different. It also gives her a sense of identification: all of a sudden she has a relationship with a white person in France, someone different from the other people she knows.

Communicate / Internalize

One also communicates in Dioula, one of the languages spoken in Burkina. Though Mariam never transmitted that language to her daughter, she is teaching it to the white lady. Is that an additional rupture ?

The original idea for the film was that of learning Dioula. It has remained in the film as a way of showing how difficult it can be to communicate. The mother tongue carries a lot of symbolic force. The editor regretted the fact that we did not subtitle certain conversations, for example when Amy and her aunt argue. You can sense the rage and pain, but unless you speak Dioula you can’t understand what is being said. The audience finds itself in Amy’s shoes. So different people will understand different things in the film. Nonetheless, what is essential does not go unperceived, because what is essential is not only cultural. There are two things at play here. Culture is what makes Amy feel like a stranger. For example, the taxi driver considers her to be white and so asks her for more money. That is the consequence of colonialism. What really is at issue here is the individual. Her family history could just as well have been lived by a French family living in France.

Participate /Watch

Why did you choose to follow Amy with a fixed camera?

I don’t like the fact of describing a place through movement, as a sort of preamble to indicate where one is. The main location, which is the house in Bobo-Dioulasso, is also the house where I spent summer vacation with my grandmother. I remember sitting and really not much happening, nothing much moved though my grandmother and I talked a lot. It was a very static, settled sensation. When we placed the actors on the set that sensation again became palpable. The fixity of the frame allows us to see Amy who is anything but still. She comes, she goes...

Dorylia Calmel par R. Bellec

Blandine Yaméogo par R.Bellec

Did you cast the actors for their different sensitivities?

Dorylia Calmel, who plays Amy, has spent more time on the stage than on film sets ; she performs trapeze. But her performance has a more sober touch to it than Blandine Yameogo in the role of the aunt, who herself is a stage actor and dancer. When we did the casting for the aunt, Blandine really moved us. Assita Ouedraogo’s performance as Mariam is altogether different. She had impressed me in The Promise and I always knew that I wanted her to play Mariam. Her presence on the screen is quite strong, austere. And there is something about her slender, angular body that is quite unusual. We remain in the realm of realism and yet she stands a bit outside of it. When watching Assita Ouedraogo play Mariam, it is her solitude that one first notices and only then the fact that she is African. Perhaps you do not think her sadness comes from the fact that she is far from her country, that she has no papers and works cleaning office buildings.

Write / Film

Did the film change a lot between the initial project and the final result?

The heart of the story at the beginning was language then it gradually shifted towards something more autobiographical. I wasn’t aware that the film had actually borrowed elements from my own life and my own family.

Esther helps her to realize that she possess something: she can teach someone another language.And this opens a door that Mariam had never thought of opening. But it also brings her back to the question of her daughter.

There is a certain theatricality to the conversations between Amy and her aunt. Was that intentional?

In the scene, for example, where Amy and her aunt argue, it is obvious that her aunt is skillful with language, knows how to manipulate it, whereas Amy is not used to such disputes or the gestures that accompany them. The aunt’s theatricality is well controlled because that is how people argue in Burkina, and Amy does the best she can.

Perhaps you understand that her solitude is the result of a painful family experience.

Nathalie Richard et Assita Ouédraogo, photo extraite du film.

Seydou Gueye et Assita Ouédraogo, photo extraite du film

Fiction brings you back to your reality?

My method of filmmaking more resembles auto-fiction. I use a lot of what are my actual experiences in my stories. Sometimes I push myself to experience certain things just so that I can relate them. We are all more aware of our comings and goings today. In general, the question of being mixed-race, of living in that place in between is one that is very pertinent. The world is constantly pressing forward, taking on new forms. People are closer in terms of distance but at the same time more distant from each other as far as communicating goes. The issue of mixed- race is one that we must continue to question and explore.

Nadine Kambou Yéri par R. Bellec