It was around the age of twenty that I first read Antigone. This Greek tragedy immediately struck a chord and I was seduced and captivated by the character’s intelligence, honesty and unshakable virtue. Despite her young age, her limited experience and the power of her opponent (the king), Antigone stands up for what she believes in. This was invigorating for me! After Jean Anouilh’s version, I then read Sophocles’ original. I discovered an Antigone whose quest for justice is all the more stronger because it is based on laws that she deems superior to those written by men. Antigone spoke so much to the young woman I was at the time, so much so, that a strong intuition told me that I would one day dive back into it...
Years later, after I had already directed two films, I heard an interview given by one of Freddy Villanueva’s sisters, who died in a Montreal park during a police intervention that went wrong. I began to imagine that this sister could be an Antigone. From that point on, the story developed... I wanted to bring to life, in our time and in the social context of our Western cities, the integrity of Antigone, her sense of justice and her capacity for love. I also wanted Antigone to remain very young (16 years old) and physically petite, in order to bring out the inner strength of this individual who pits higher values against the official laws of man.
In my adaptation, the royal figure of authority is split between various characters that range from police agents to the magistrates, to the correctional officers, through the paternal figure, with whom Antigone enters into negotiations.
The film is somewhat a tale that falls within a social realism. There is however, a strange scene where Antigone is interrogated by a blind psychiatrist named Teresa, a modern incarnation of the soothsayer Tiresias. Beyond the game of associations created between a soothsayer who belongs to the world of Greek tragedy and the contemporary figure of a psychiatrist, I found it essential to create a space where Antigone’s subconscious could speak and bear witness to the force that animates her and makes her heroic. Antigone feels entrusted with a higher duty towards those who preceded her, towards her dead loved ones, whom she always perceives at her side. Antigone is not alone. The laws of man have less value in her eyes than those dictated by her dead loved ones, which means she is faced with a dilemma that is the very essence of this tragedy. The psychiatrist/soothsayer predicts: “You will be walled up, alive!” Here, for a brief instant, the realistic narrative intersects with the codes of fantasy cinema, which is based on our deepest fears buried in the subconscious.
Similar to the Greek tragedy, Antigone’s story is punctuated throughout the film by interventions of the chorus, a collective that, without being directly involved in the action, comments on the events experienced by the characters or expresses the emotions they arouse. I find that social media acts in exactly the same way in the grand theatre of the contemporary social sphere. They are the murmur of the city. Choruses/social media take a stand as the story progresses, they comment on the facts, sometimes twisting them, or drawing inspiration from them. When Antigone and her brothers are misrepresented online by the press and by the public, her friend Haemon helps to make her cause shine through. Finally, Antigone also draws from these choruses a power and an impetus that give her action a scope that transcends her immigrant family setting.
Like the ancient choruses, I use singing, rhythm, slogans and dance; my choruses, in cinematic language, are thus closer to clips, which affects us more emotionally than intellectually. By using music from different periods (from classical instrumentation to the raspy voice of a rapper) and from different geographical locations (from Kabylia to North America and Europe), I saturate the story with these great movements. I particularly like it when the music contrasts with the action or creates a gap towards a more ambiguous sense. Like a tale, the sequence of happiness at the beginning of the film, supported by Debussy’s magical music, gives depth to the story; the contrast between the contemporary realism of the image and the romantic rise of the winds and harp reflects the internal mindset of the characters, who, at that moment, live a kind of fairy tale, obviously too beautiful to last.
Photography, in constant motion, visually distinguishes the intimate and social spaces where the different faces of authority unfold. Thus, Antigone’s family apartment, the youth gatherings, as well as Haemon’s garage and their neighborhood nestled in an urban nature - their secret garden - are treated with warmth: bright colors and abundant details. The police station, the courthouse, the prison, the Youth Center and Christian’s house (Haemon’s father) explore a cold, minimalist and raw palette; it is the function that prevails here, impersonal, direct and straightforward.
Although different from each other, my films all deal with the visceral relationship to a community along with the underground and imperfect links that weave it. Likewise, nature plays an essential role, as a space where instinct unfolds, where the biological being that we are takes over the social being. This is just as true for Antigone. Towards the very end, Antigone and Haemon sign a pact of love, so to speak, in a place which is of some sorts their secret garden, on wet soil which sticks to their skin, in vegetation which magnifies them. At that moment, Antigone knows that she will not take up the offer of Christian, Haemon’s father, which would allow her to improve her situation, to have a future in this land. Through this scene of love, Antigone says farewell to Haemon, to her host country and to her childhood.
For the casting, I had to look beyond the conventional method to form a credible Maghrebi family. I therefore launched an open casting appeal through social networks, but also with the help of teachers who teach to a diverse youth, reflecting what Quebec-Canada is like today. We received more than 850 applications and auditioned nearly 300 people. The work continued with a small number of them, from which emerged this beautiful group of actors and actresses who, for the first time, played leading roles in a film, including Nahéma Ricci, who’s talent lived up to the expectations of the mythical Antigone. We were meticulous, attentive and scrupulous in our work. We both felt a great responsibility in bringing Antigone to life on the screen.
These colossal auditions also allowed me to meet young people with multiple talents who contributed to the composition of the film’s original music and to the animation of the choruses. A great adventure, certainly demanding in its preparation, but which seemed essential for me to implement.