In My Legionnaire, currently in theaters, Louis Garrel plays a member of the foreign legion confronted with the painful separation with his companion. DashFUN met actor and director Rachel Lang.
DashFUN: My Legionnaire is very different from Baden Baden, your first film. How did you come to want to make a feature film on the Foreign Legion?
Rachel Lang: The genesis of the project dates back to my first military experience when I was 20 years old. I thought about the intensity of what we had lived and how the men who go out find their wives and how the return to civilian life can be intense. The second question of the film which came to me much later concerns the high expectations of women vis-à-vis their men. It is very difficult for them.
Did you both talk to soldiers from the Foreign Legion in order to understand their experience and transcribe it on the screen?
Rachel Lang: Yes, for several years I have met a lot of families, legionaries and their wives. I wrote the screenplay from their stories.
Louis Garrel: I have met quite a few, especially soldiers. It’s a world that is so far from what I know that it was imperative, especially because Rachel did not exercise admiration, virility or authority, that I be an ethnologist. I had to watch how it goes.
We did this internship, which lasted 3 days, we went to the countryside with guys who were doing role plays where they try to train us on what we eat, how we sleep and how we do pumps. I also had to learn terms and then a kind of choreography to have a certain posture.
Besides the military preparation, how did you approach this character?
Louis Garrel: It is as you work and discover this environment. There, it was about telling how a couple is moving away little by little because their realities are so different. We had to imagine, find equivalences, even if I have never been confronted with that.
The staging is very intimate with sequences on the ground that respond to family scenes and vice versa. Did any films inspire you for this production?
Rachel Lang: I have no references from other filmmakers for the direction. I wanted to make a reality tangible, to show a profession, to show a state, to show things that I had apprehended in documentary research. I wanted to stage this with the most truth.
How did you choose Alexander Kuznetsov and Ina Marija Bartaité to play Vlad and Nika?
Rachel Lang: Alexander was cast in Russia via tapes. He was very intense, very close to the character quickly, very invested. When I didn’t have the character of Vlad yet, I was looking in Slavic cinema to find actors and while watching Šarūnas Bartas’s film, I came across Ina, his daughter. She was at that time at the Cours Florent in Paris so I was able to meet her in casting very quickly. It was overwhelming, our hairs stood on end.
I told Rachel to be careful and think about her spectators who are not from that world at all. I think she owed a debt to the military when she was making the film. But I told him that he still had to think about the spectators and that there was a promise of adventure.
What made you think of Louis Garrel and Camille Cottin to play the main couple in the film?
Rachel Lang: It was not obvious but there was a reading that totally convinced me. It was fair, smart, fine when he didn’t understand what he was saying. So it was quite impressive. And since he promised me he would do the physical job, I told myself that I was going to take the risk.
Louis Garrel: I think the risk of taking me in this film is greater than what she did in the field (laughs).
Rachel Lang: And then Camille, it took someone with strength, daring, charisma and authority to be in a couple like that and that sticks. How would you describe a surprising couple?
Louis Garrel: Giscardien. It is astonishing this couple, it is very far from what I know.
How did the shoot go and how long did it last?
Louis Garrel: Six or seven weeks. First in Corsica and then in Morocco in the desert, just before the Algerian border. It was very hot, it was 40 degrees sometimes. It was above all the heat that had to be fought. In armored vehicles, there is no shock absorber, there are seats which …