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ARTISTES EN ZONE TROUBLÉS

Stéphane Gérard,

Lionel Soukaz

Daily blues, drinking sessions with friends, conversations and the passing of time are the elements making up Lionel Soukaz’s video diary, a chronicle of the early 1990s, the comet tail of those endless winter years, marked by the nightmare of the AIDS epidemic. But those images, edited some thirty years later with Stéphane Gérard, are also a tribute to the departed, the director’s beloved partner, Hervé Couergou, the central figure of all the scenes. Slowly, within conversations among the couple or among friends, the dandy spirit and intimate confessions overlap. Thus unfolds the portrait of a particular way of facing the times and coping with its pains; underneath its purely commemorative dimension, the film strives to imprint a lively presence.

Nathan Letoré

What inspired you to make this film, a tribute to Hervé Couergou, nearly thirty years after his passing ?

Lionel Soukaz : It all actually started a long time ago, in 1991, when I began a video journal for Hervé (known as RV). From the earliest tapes, I filmed with the possibility of his death in mind, as a means of keeping him with me and perhaps to distance myself from his death. I didn’t have time for editing; all that mattered was filming him and being with him.

Stéphane Gérard : I never met RV. I came across Lionel, his story, and Journal annales in 2009, thanks to Nicole Brenez. It was clear for both Lionel and I that the priority was to safeguard all the cassettes at the National Library and obtain the digitized files in exchange. These enabled us to make films through digital editing, firstly En Corps + (presented at Mucem in 2021), a film about collective engagement in the fight against AIDS, and now this portrait with the encouragements of Elisabeth Lebovici and François Piron for the exhibition “Exposé·es” at the Palais de Tokyo. 


The film stems from several hundred hours of video recording. Some sequences are based on a very rich interplay of superimpositions and filters. Could you tell us about the editing process ?

SG : With the nearly 2000 hours of video recording which make up Journal annales to go through, the logging process formed the bulk of the work. In the last ten years, I’ve watched hundreds of hours of the Journal in order to better understand its chronology and its own logic. Lionel, for his part, uses his memory, all the recollections that my questions call back. The film took shape through this back-and-forth.

As we were making a film about RV as an artist, it was important for us that the film reflect his creativity, humor, and the dreamy poetry of his imagination. There was little to create, as everything was already in the Journal: their drawings, the poems, landscapes, and light which collide in a cloud of fades and superimpositions. 

LS: Stéphane has done a magnificent job. It’s exactly the edit I dreamed of, and one that only he could do thanks to his understanding and knowledge of the Journal

Without necessarily revealing one of the film’s scenes, could you tell us about the choice of title, and the surprising agreement of its adjective ?
LS : AZT is the name of the first medicine to be prescribed to slow the progress of HIV, but which also killed many people in too high a dose. When RV was taking AZT, he was somehow one of the many artists in troubled zones.
SG : It seemed like a good idea to choose a title that Hervé had come up with himself, not necessarily for the film, but which reflected his intention to combat the epidemic through art and culture. We kept the spelling that he used, which leaves room for doubt, as it ascribes the troubles and confusion either to people (their incomprehension of the sudden and hard-hitting truth, their exhilaration to escape the violence of reality, their uncertainty in how to react) or to the era (political denial and disregard for marginalized people living with the disease, early medical responses, discrimination against homosexuals, migrants, and drug users…). There was trouble everywhere, and that’s what made their determination to create and to love in the heart of the storm all the more beautiful.


Whilst music plays a vital role in the film, there is no other exterior commentary in the form of voice-overs or onscreen text. What is the reason for this?

SG : It always seemed clear that the images from Journal annales, unique in their subjectivity and intimacy, should be the only source material for the film. That material is so rich and exists in such great quantity that we could presume that every sound and every shot we needed for the editing probably existed on one of the cassettes.
LS : The editing was thought out as the continuation of the shooting : everything is live, without commentary. I sometimes comment on an action whilst I’m filming, and similarly, the music in the film corresponds to moments of listening to pieces composed and performed by Peter Ogi and written by RV. The music is played through a speaker or with headphones directly into the microphone; nothing is added during the editing. They are extracts from life, a document, the pages of a diary.

Interview by Nathan Letoré

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Technical sheet

France / 2023 / 39’

Rights holder
Stéphane Gérard
gerardstephane@gmail.com