Interview by

Hannah Strong


Illustration by

Becki Gill

Alice Winocour: ‘Post-traumatic memory is something very specific’

The French filmmaker on the nuances of recreating a real-life terrorist attack in her reflective new film, Paris Memories.

Since her 2012 debut Augustine, French filmmaker Alice Winocour has proven she’s able to turn her hand to seemingly any genre, from the home invasion thriller Disorder, to co-writing Turkish coming-of-age story Mustang, through to sci-fi motherhood drama Proxima. Her latest film, Paris Memories, is much closer to home, focussing on a woman who survives the deadly terrorist attack of November 2015, and attempts to come to terms with her lasting trauma.

LWLies: It’s my understanding that this is a film very rooted in personal experience…

Winocour: Yes, my little brother was involved in the Bataclan attack on Paris, so my starting point was about my personal memories of that night. He sent me a text saying he was in the theatre. Then I was inspired by the victims I met after, and the discussions I had with my brother. I wanted to tell a story about resilience and so it’s really a fiction, it’s not at all the Bataclan attack which is in the film. After the event I did another movie, Proxima, but when I came back to Paris, I felt I had to do a film about this, really to face my own personal trauma. But then I also met with victims, and the community they’d built, which was really interesting to me.

Why did you decide to create a fictional terrorist attack rather than use the actual Paris attack?

My brother made me understand it was not possible to truly depict the actual attack. I decided to depict an attack in the film, but I thought very carefully about how to stage it, and it’s kind of abstract within the film – it’s not like an action movie, with multiple points of view. I wanted it to be from a single point of view, the point of view of the victim, and it’s really more about sound. I wanted to create this feeling of empathy with the character, and to understand this feeling that in one second, you go from one world to another. I wrote and directed a film about soldiers returning from Afghanistan with PTSD, but it’s really different to go to war and to be traumatised, from being in a Parisian restaurant drinking wine and suddenly you see people dead around you. That’s what I wanted to express with that scene.

It feels like experiencing something like this might be impossible to forget, but Mia really has to go through this process of unlocking her memories. Did you find it’s common for victims to forget the details of what happened to them?

It’s very common, as your body and mind just can’t stand it because of the violence. This is really a film about memory, and post-traumatic memory is something very specific. You see flashbacks in the film, but they’re not really like normal flashbacks, they’re more like recreations that are triggered by specific sounds or events, like a sudden psychic break, where suddenly you’re back in the place. It’s like a puzzle really, as Mia has all these details but not in the right order, and she’s trying to put them back together, but then she meets all these other victims, with different pieces, and different perspectives. It’s like this interview, in a way, you won’t remember it the same way that I do. Though it’s hopefully not a traumatic event in the same way [laughs] But I mean to say, we don’t see events from the same perspective.

Virginie Efira gives such a great performance. Did you have her in mind when you were writing the script?

Actually, I wrote the film for an American actress, as I thought she would have to be a stranger to the city of Paris. But then writing the film I realised she’s not a stranger to the city. She’s a Parisian but now feels like a stranger due to the trauma, and that was more interesting to me. When I started thinking of a French actress, I always had Virginie in mind, as she’s someone who seems very strong, and I didn’t want the character to feel like, maybe, the stereotypical victim. To me she had to be someone who projected this idea that she doesn’t want to be defined by her victimhood, and she wants to understand what happened to her. But it was very difficult for Virginie, as she was having to play this character who finds her body suddenly alien to herself. So she has to be present, but you can also see she’s out of the situation. I showed her a lot of Cronenberg films – the big one was The Dead Zone, and we looked at Christopher Walken’s performance in that film, and the way to perform a character who is not mentally present in a scene.

Published 4 Aug 2023

Tags: Alice Winocour Paris Memories Virginie Efira

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