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Pauline Bastard

Pauline Bastard
What is political rhetoric? How is a word embodied? How do we establish a listening ear? These are all questions at the heart of so called politics. And just as decisive, who is talking to whom? For Pauline Bastard, whose projects (films and performances) consist of investigating the real and drawing out fictions that strip it back to its foundations, the 2022 presidential campaign offered the perfect opportunity to do so. Here are the bodies of some – you, me, everyone, in short the ultimate political body in a democracy – who endorse, are taken by the game and sometimes the words already spoken by others – well-known candidates. From one word to another, through the gaps that this authorises as much as the unforeseen associations, the exposure is as enjoyable as it is disconcerting. (Nicolas Feodoroff)

Interview with Pauline Bastard

Artist and filmmaker, you use protocols or performances as the driving force behind your films – and vice versa – with a strong penchant for fiction in the real world. With The Opponents you re-enact the 2022 presidential campaign. What interested you in this moment of political ritual?

I wanted to create a link between citizens and the words of politicians. The candidates and journalists talk about democracy in crisis and during the rehearsals for speeches I saw a way to reclaim politics, to take it back. To take back our voice and also to look at it from a distance, like a text that we could rework. This allowed us to observe the process and make sense of the words twisted by the media spectacle which was stripped back to appear as it really is.

To do this, you carried out a “casting” based on a public process. How did this happen? How were the roles distributed? How did the shoot unfold? What were the challenges of this process for you?

I looked for participants for my projects on different platforms, I used craigslist, leboncoin, and casting.fr. I always offer extras in order to reach all types of people. For The Opponents, I explained what we were going to do every time someone answered my ad: to re-enact the whole campaign by doing workshops every 15 days. At that stage, I lost a lot of applicants! So, I worked with almost all the people who stayed on board. We looked with each person for the role that best suited them: according to their availability, their willingness, their speech rate, their understanding of the prose of a particular politician. We then held workshops to work with each person. The approach is to meet people who are available to commit themselves to such an experiment, people I would not otherwise have known and who would not have met if it were not for the project, and to reflect together on an issue. It’s never really a game, they are there as themselves. We got involved in a debate on politics through a form of exercise and we created a relationship with the campaign.
It was important for me to have a variety of people and for everyone to invest in the process of rehearsal because this can be physically challenging, but we also engaged in a collective reflection on political representation.

In the huge amount of public discourse that goes on during a campaign, how did you go about choosing the speeches and other media interventions that were selected ?

I watched everything I could. I selected and pre-edited all the candidates’ meetings, interviews and speeches. I tried to capture the essence of each candidate’s speech each time: I made a short version by selecting some passages. There is a lot of repetition in the meetings and interviews, and I had to find the characteristic elements of each campaign. Then, these pre-edits were adapted according to what was happening in the workshop, the relationship between the performers and the text. Finally, when it came to editing the film, once the campaign was over, it was once again a matter of making a selection according to the general thrust.

The places where the filming took place provided a backdrop for the ordinary, featureless office. What was at stake for you in keeping this space?

I worked with community centres, these spaces were used for our workshop centred on the campaign, but also for drawing classes, yoga, French. The workshop was hosted in these spaces, at first, I thought I would just rehearse in them and little by little they became the backdrop for the film, the houseplants and plastic chairs in the different places where we worked are incorporated in the film. It’s a type of space which could be party headquarters, a local charity, an office, etc… what interested me was the versatility of these spaces.

What about the presence of the choir?

All the meetings end with a song.
During the campaign, there was a discussion about the songs, whether to choose the Internationale or La Marseillaise, they are both symbolic. It is also a time when the candidate starts to sing, and it is always a bit strange to see someone who has just harangued a crowd start singing – it’s another big reveal. I also wanted to use the Gilets Jaunes’ song, “On est là”, which was sung at certain meetings, at which the candidates were unable to appear.

An unusual aspect of your work is that you appear in the film as a journalist. Why this cameo?

In my other projects there are often people from the crew who do cameos, like Athéna Niké (an adaptation of the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, shot in an abandoned stadium in the city) a sound engineer plays a caryatid, another one plays a dancer. In Alex (a 9-hour film in which a team and I try to integrate a fake person into society) my producer was also the president of the Alex association and so helped Alex in his daily life. I don’t work with professionals and the roles are not too defined, so everyone can find their place according to what they can or want to do. For Les Adversaires, I had the idea that we needed one or two journalists who would play all the journalists interchangeably. I had found two people, but one of them was very slow to respond to emails and was always away, so I started replacing her. I had practised hard on rehearsing speeches to be able to work with the extras and I was the journalist for all these tests. So, it was a practical choice, because I was there and had also followed the campaign and that’s what my character does. And finally, because I really enjoyed doing what I asked others to do, it was a pleasure.

Interviewed by Nicolas Feodoroff

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Technical sheet

France / 2022 / Couleur / 80’

Original version : french
Subtitles : english
Photography : Pauline Bastard
Image : Pauline Bastard
Editing : Pauline Bastard
Sound : Angèle Dumont, Zoé Metra, Camille Le Meur
Production : Pauline Bastard.