When De Gaulle was released, director Gabriel Le Bomin had confided in the creation of this ambitious biopic. The film is back on screen for the reopening of theaters. Interview.
[Mis à jour le 22 juin 2020 à 9h00] He is a major historical figure that Gabriel Le Bomin seizes on for his latest film. De Gaulle was released for the first time in theaters on March 4, 2020. But like many films released at the end of winter, its operation was cut short by the closure of cinemas. This biopic history is back in theaters when it reopens, this Monday, June 22. As a reminder, De Gaulle retraces the few crucial weeks of June 1940, when the General left France for London, before launching his famous June 18 call. Between a historical film and an intimate portrait of the future presidential couple, this feature film offers a new perspective on the De Gaulle couple. In an interview given shortly before the film’s first release in March, director Gabriel Le Bomin returned to this ambitious project.
Why did you decide to make a film on Charles de Gaulle, and more particularly on Charles de Gaulle in June 1940?
I had approached Charles De Gaulle several times in my documentary work. Then I saw the movie The King’s Speech, and I asked myself: “What could look like this in France?” Finally, the great French speech of the twentieth century is this appeal of June 18: it is a marker of history which legitimizes De Gaulle and above all allows France to be a country which resists and which has his place at the winner’s table. With my co-screenwriter Valérie Ranson Enguiale, we then wondered how we could approach this affair without falling into the classic biopic that covers his entire life. The first gesture was to circumscribe the story. Between May 1940 and the call of June 18, there are five very interesting weeks where the character is becoming de Gaulle as we know him. The second choice we made on the screenplay was to give Yvonne De Gaulle an equal place in the story.
Did you feel any apprehension or pressure during the preparation of the film?
There is always a great deal of apprehension when we launch into a film. After that, it was as the project went on that I started to have a cold sweat. I admit that the first tests where we looked for the face, the look, … it was times when I had doubts. The first days of filming were also moments of questioning. But that’s always the case for a movie. But when we attack a famous character, it is to the power of 100.
“There was no other possibility” than Lambert Wilson in this role.
You made the choice to approach the character through the prism of the intimate: how did you go about writing the screenplay?
Initially with my co-writer, we went to classic documentation: biography, history books, more personal stories like those of his son, the letters that Charles and Yvonne exchanged daily. And then there are the memories of Charles de Gaulle who are rich, since he recounts this period from day to day. Afterwards, inside all of this, you have to make choices, and above all you have to invest in the spaces of fiction and bring them to life with honesty and resemblance.
How did you come to choose Lambert Wilson for this role? What were your criteria?
As soon as the script was written, we wondered about the incarnation. And the field of possibilities is not immense. We do not have a plethora of actors who would combine age, charisma, stature, notoriety … If Lambert [Wilson, ndlr] had said no, I’m not sure the film would have happened … or at least not so easily. It took an actor who had a capacity to seize the epic and the romantic, and Lambert Wilson proved it and he likes that on top of that, he likes to build and disappear behind his characters. It’s a beautiful encounter between a director and an actor, an actor with a role. It was done like that but at the same time, there was no other possibility.
And the first time you saw him in Charles de Gaulle’s costume, how did you feel?
It’s emotional to see the actor become the character. When he appeared there was a disturbance among people because everyone saw … that it was working! At times it’s bluffing. And at the same time, I didn’t want to make it disappear totally Lambert Wilson, you should not have…