An Interview with Pierre-François Sauter (Director)
Portraying the Immigrant as an Individual
Q: Jovan and José are really charming protagonists—did you establish the details of their personalities or roots in advance?
PFS: From the very beginning, I was thinking about making a film about a funeral company, and the people who work there. I then heard about the issue of transporting dead bodies, and, having developed an interest in the topic, decided to make a film at a company that handled that task. The two leads in the film were among the roughly eighty employees working there. When we had finished the interviews, it was decided that Jovan would be in the film, and a little while after, José was set as well. Whenever I would film José and Jovan, I would pick up on their sense of humor, on the affection and respect that they had for one another, and I really liked that. I think this film rests on the differences in personality between them. I thought that by having these two—who are cultured and have roots in other countries—in my film, it could break through pre-existing views on immigrants or people who work at funeral companies.
Q: Did you have a script for the conversations between them?
PFS: This is pure documentary. I often get asked whether I had given them a script, but that was not the case. Perhaps, the editing gives that kind of impression. The majority of the conversations arose spontaneously between the two of them, but there are some conversations that I edited together. There were also times during filming when, riding in the back of the hearse that they were driving, I would throw out interesting topics for debate, and have them discuss those.
Q: You’ve called this film “a tribute to all those men who left Southern Italy”—what inspired you to make a film dedicated to immigrants from a specific region rather than immigrants in general?
PFS: Since the fifties, waves of seasonal laborers came from Southern Italy to Switzerland, looking for work. It is crucial that this film be dedicated to those people. Those people, who, at the time, were working under unstable conditions, are now all over eighty. Among them, there are those who have already passed away, as well as those who want to return to their homeland. They are the reason why I began making this film. Even before I started filming, I was thinking about Italy. I know a lot of people who have emigrated from Italy or are the descendants of such immigrants. What’s more, I have long held an interest in Italy. While the film opens with Italian immigrants, it gradually unfolds to contemplate “those who travel the world, crossing regional boundaries,” “those who migrate in search of a better life.”
Q: There’s a global trend of lumping all immigrants together and seeing them as a problem. Given that you’ve made a film that focuses on “the immigrant as an individual” what do you think of this situation?
PFS: This is exactly the issue that really interests me. Currently, Europe is gradually becoming insular. I feel that a great deal of documentaries nowadays do not sufficiently delve into this issue. I wanted to make a sharp distinction between this kind of documentary and my own. An immigrant is not some anonymous stranger, but a human being like you and me, and each one has their own interests, each one is chasing after what might benefit them. That is what I wanted to portray.
(Compiled by Endo Chiho)
Interviewers: Endo Chiho, Sato Tomoko / Interpreter: Umehara Mayumi / Translator: Joelle Tapas
Photography: Akashi Moeka / Video: Kusunose Kaori / 2017-10-08