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Annik Leroy,

Julie Morel

With Tremor. Es ist immer Krieg (FID 2017), Annik Leroy hammered the point home – even caught up in the 20th century and its destructive forces, “Man does not cry, he fights”. In this film, co-written with Julie Morel, we find the same power and energy intact and deployed in two stages. First of all, four portraits in which we learn that practising art or thought has enabled each of the subjects to live through and confront the traumas born of social violence. For one of them it’s voluntary exile and survival thanks to the inner strength brought about by singing, for another, it’s retreating from the world and into writing. And for each of them, a unique path. Annik Leroy and Julie Morel set these four filmed accounts against the works of Hannah Arendt, her thinking inspired by and shot through with her own experiences, theoretical texts like letters to close friends, taken together as aspects of the same journey. This thinking as an active force is then relayed and embodied by the powerful and determined presence of Claire Vivianne Sobottke, dancer, choreographer and performer. Pacing across a house, appropriating her own body, breaths and gestures are forcefully brought to life by this body in action, by her presence full of restrained intensity. The grainy 16mm intensifies and magnifies the space, bodies and faces. La Force Diagonale is a vibrant hymn of admiration for the philosopher, as well as for all those who possess the same strength as hers, the vital force of thought born of adversity.

Nicolas Feodoroff

An earlier film, ‘Tremor. Es Ist Immer Krieg’ (FID 2017), a cry of rage, was full voices, mainly Pasolini and Ingeborg Bachman. Here again we have voices, the voices of anonymous people and above all, Hannah Arendt’s voice. Why Arendt today? 

We started this film in 2019. To begin with, we had this desire to film faces and meet people starting out from a word, “faille” (fault or rift). For the first two years, we began scouting, interviewing and shooting these encounters. Three of the film’s main characters were already there as we began writing the project. One is an old friend of Annik’s, but we met the other two in the context of the film. As for Hannah Arendt, at first we imagined her presence in the film during a decisive period in her life as a woman, a philosopher and a Jew – her twofold exile in France and then the United States between 1933 and 1941. In this series of portraits, the three portraits of women connected to the city of Sarajevo only took shape at the very end of the process, when all the others had been completed. So there are several layers of composition, inseparable from the way we worked. Each portrait is constructed over a long period, in several stages and alternating with the others. These constant crossovers created unexpected links that had an effect on us and on the ongoing writing of the film. For the editing, first we composed each portrait as a standalone sequence. But again, we drew up a draft and let it settle before returning to it several weeks later. Meanwhile, we continued our research and shoots. This constant coming-and-going meant that the editing was a time of open composition, though always guided and limited by the visual, sound and textual material. 

You use several texts by Arendt. How did you choose them? And you also imagine a fictional letter to Kafka. How did that happen? How did you write it?

In 2021, we intensified our research into Hannah Arendt. At this point, there was something that stood out for us in the interviews with the 3 characters: each could see in a moment of rupture an opportunity for transformation. Although this was vision often in retrospect, it testifies to a strength unique to human beings, of being agents of their own destiny. 

Exiled in France since 1933, Hannah’s status as a political refugee suddenly switched to that of an “undesirable” German when the war broke out, and she was forcibly interned in the Gurs camp in 1940. When France turned to collaboration, the camp administrator wavered and Hannah seized this opportunity to leave the camp on foot. She knew what was waiting for her as a Jew. Arendt’s lucidity and boldness are inseparable from her political thinking. It’s always about understanding the event, thinking and judging for ourselves in a world we share with others. 

In Between Past and Future (1961) Hannah Arendt suggests the metaphor of diagonal force to situate thought in history. The presence of the human being opens up a gap from which a play of forces between present, past and future comes to life. Thought is part of a specific moment in history, and at the same time, propelled towards infinity under the pressure of the past and the future. 

In the film, this story of diagonal force began to act without our knowing. It collided with the narratives of our characters and became all the more closely linked to Arendt’s own biography. In hindsight, we could say that we appropriated this non-linear vision of time from our filmmaking practice. 

How did you imagine connecting these four narratives, if we include Hannah Arendt, who’s involved both personally and as a philosopher of these situations? 

When there are two of you making a film and you invite people both living and dead into the conversation, you become increasingly interested in what makes you deviate from your starting point. You could say that Annik is driven by strong visions, obsessions that become anchor points, while I spend my time creating links where they didn’t exist before. For this film, Annik’s starting point was a small photograph taken in the “Trench of Death” from the 14-18 war. This image stirred childhood memories, her family history scarred by the two world wars and the city of Brussels. All this is there at the start of the film in an ultra-condensed form. In the dialogue between us, and then with Arendt and the other characters, this biographical starting point grew wider until it became the “opening” of the film. 

Which texts particularly inspired you? 

Two of Arendt’s texts were always present, the letter she wrote to Günther Anders in 1940 and the theoretical text The Desert and the Oases, written in 1955. We chose the other extracts depending on the context given by a sequence, because we loved them, or because they lent themselves better to vocal or choreographic research. It’s about showing the diversity of Hannah Arendt’s language – written and spoken, conceptual or poetic, her native and adopted tongue, public and private language and so on. Some texts were used directly; others were a source of inspiration. For Arendt, to think is to enter into dialogue – a dialogue with oneself and with others. She kept up sustained correspondences with a lot of people. In Between the Past and the Present, she interprets a saying by Kafka. When we suggested these texts to Claire, she seized upon them to invent a dialogue between Arendt and Kafka in the form of a letter she addresses to us. 

But before this in-depth reading of Arendt, we already loved Hannah’s persona, her style, her irony, her gravelly voice and her laugh, her androgynous allure. It was obvious to us that this life force should be embodied in the image, and also that we wanted to hear Arendt actually speaking her words, as much as her texts. 

The film also unfolds around the presence of Claire Vivianne Sobottke, the performer, choreographer and actor. How did you meet her? How did you work together?  

Annik remembered the shockwaves caused by Claire Vivianne Sobottke in a show by Meg Stuart. She decided that she and no-one else should be Hannah! So we wrote to her to ask her to take part in our research, specifying that it was about performing Hannah, not playing a role in the traditional sense. There was no script, no dialogue. For several months, we chose locations and texts, isolated biographical elements, and gathered visual and audio documents. We put all these materials to work with Claire during two research sessions lasting several days. Each session was immediately followed by filming. They were very intense encounters and for us, a radically different timeframe and way of working. Each of us was positioned to interpret this material based on our own practices. We gave Claire a context, our intentions and spatial and time restrictions connected to our cinematic choices. With her unique spontaneity, audacity and rigour, she surprised us with her own wishes and suggestions. During the research, we recorded the “rehearsals” on video, and based on that, we decided together what we wanted to film on 16mm. For the shooting, we mostly only did one take. 

Interview by Cyril Neyrat

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Technical sheet

Belgium / 2023 / 145’

Cast: Claire Vivianne Sobottke

Production: Marie Logie (Auguste Orts), Daniel De Valck (Cobra Films)