“People who no longer conform to our society’s stereotypes of normality”
The third short film by Belgian director Laura Wandel was presented in the official competition at the Cannes Festival. Foreign Bodies (Les corps étrangers) tells the story of Alexandre, a war photographer who is left disabled following an accident during a reporting assignment in a war-torn country. Having had half a leg amputated, Alexandre pays regular visits to the swimming pool, where a lifeguard helps him to reclaim his own body and, to some extent, reintegrate himself into society after this experience that has changed him forever. Alexandre is evidently angry at the world, or perhaps at the “normal people”, like those who visit the pool: the swimmer who unwittingly pushes him to one side (at whom Alexandre hurls strong insults) or the lifeguard who unsuccessfully tries to befriend him. Alexandre is more interested in watching the bodies of the pregnant women as they swim, which the camerawork of Frédéric Noirhomme captures in all their elegance, or those of the elderly women as they do their gymnastics. They are foreign bodies – foreign to the stereotypes of beauty, just like the one that belongs to Alexandre, who must fight against himself and his inner demons in order to finally be able to live with himself once again. The short was produced by Belgium-based Dragons Films. Cineuropa met up with Laura Wandel.
Cineuropa: What drove you to tackle this subject?
Laura Wandel: We live in a society where physical appearances are absolutely paramount, and I wanted to raise questions about that, to question how we see it, to explore the violence that a man who no longer ties in with these standards can go through, and also the tendency that people sometimes have to project the image that they have of themselves into the eyes of others.
So foreign bodies are different bodies, then…
Yes, Alexandre is foreign in relation to his own body, and also foreign in relation to all these other bodies.
Do the stares that other people give him, like those of the children who watch him in the shower, fuel his frustration, or rather do they do him good, as it were?
Personally, I think that children have an honest way of seeing things because it’s spontaneous. Instead of looking away and pretending not to notice, they confront the very thing they’re looking at (editor’s note: by asking him, “Does it hurt?”), and that does do him good.
And what about his way of seeing things? Alexandre seems to be very interested in the pregnant women and elderly women in the swimming pool…
In fact, he sees others as he sees himself; he sees himself as no longer tying in with a standard, and because of that, his gaze falls on people who no longer conform to our society’s stereotypes of normality. And that is also reflected in the way in which the camera filmed them – we filmed really close up because he’s watching certain bits of people’s bodies. He no longer has his camera, which had previously served as a boundary separating him and the other bodies; in this place, he finds himself totally face to face with them, and he feels under pressure.
How did you work with Alain Eloy?
I made him read a lot of books about war photographers because I wanted him to be inspired by these people’s stories. We met up with and talked to physiotherapists and amputees, and we went to the swimming pool with a physio to demonstrate to him how to swim and the way he needed to move around. There was some preparation in terms of the postures and how to move about, but not in terms of the dialogue.
Had you already worked with special effects before?
No, this was my first time, and in fact, I hadn’t realised just how much work it would entail. Luckily, Umedia got involved in the project – they have a special-effects department, and as a result we had someone at our disposal during the shoot who helped us to do things properly. I was surrounded by experts from that field, and I didn’t have to worry about it – I was lucky.
Was it easy to put together the budget to make this film?
I received backing from the Fédération Wallonie Bruxelles, RTBF and the Tax Shelter, but that wasn’t enough – people weren’t paid on the shoot. Luckily, I had a brilliant crew that put all their time and energy into the project.
29 May 2014, by Fran Royo