De guerre lasses follows a year in the life of those who are rebuilding their lives after war. Sedina, Jasmina and Senada, three Bosnian women exhausted by the war which stole their husbands, recount their stories. From the initial idea of the film in 1995 to its release in October 2003, including a television broadcast and an entire host of festival nominations, De guerre lasses, Laurent Bécue-Renard’s first film, has come to know several lives and serves as an account of the career of a determined man, if that’s what he is.
Emma Baus: How did De guerre lasses start?
Laurent Bécue-Renard: I was at university in the United States when a subsidiary of the daily newspaper Libération invited me to work for a month on an Internet magazine in the besieged city of Sarajevo. I arrived in 1995 during a lull in the first year of the war. The fighting started again, but Bosnia had taken hold of me, so I stayed there to continue the project.
EB: It was at that time that you learned about the work carried out by Vive Zene, wasn’t it?
LBR: It was in the last few days of those eight months that I met Fica, a therapist. She agreed to let us attend a group therapy session with women from Srebrenica, victims of the Bosnian Serb army. When I left, I decided I was going to make a film even though my main method of expression was writing. This was essential for evidence, it had to be a film, it had to be a representation of reality from real people. A long time passed…I reflected on it for a year and a half but without writing anything, without even knowing what had become of the therapy centre. Settling back into real life, for me as for all the witnesses of the war in Bosnia, was very difficult. I went back and explained my idea to Fica who agreed to help. I wrote the project and I finally began to film two and a half years after having the initial idea.
EB: What filming techniques did you use?
LBR: The filming took place over a period of a year in 1998-99. I used a digital video camera with a microphone attached, no sound engineers. For the first five months I worked alone and went to the centre fifteen days a month until I went back to France to prepare the rushes. Then I found a production company and two head cameramen experienced in documentary work to accompany me back. Post-production took another year because there were 300 hours of material, 200 of which were purely dialogue. The idea was to have a process of originating through words, so I had to film continuously. At first, I followed fifteen women, then after four months I chose just four to follow to the very end.
EB: What was the major difficulty in using such a reduced technical set-up?
LBR: Due to the lack of means and my desire to remain discreet, the sound was really poor. But it’s a film rooted deep in life. Words are not only a source of life, but words are surrounded by life itself. I wanted this life to be felt from the sound. I enlisted the help of two sound ‘wizards’, a sound editor and mixer, who had worked in cinema and who carried out amazing work revamping and basically saving my film!
EB: The way these women express themselves is incredible. It is as if they use some rare kind of poetry…
LBR: In fact it was an enormous task to create the subtitles. We had to try to simplify what the women were saying, yet still maintain their character, something which was quite meaningful, philosophical and literary, yet spoken. It was painstaking work and took several weeks to complete, as it’s a wordy film. Finding the right words was extremely important as the film is in no way informative. We had to make sure that the words touched each viewer so that they could experience it themselves.
EB: When did the film come out on video?
LBR: The film was first shown in 2000 in Marseilles where it received the Planète prize under the title *Vivre après, paroles de femmes and was broadcast on Canal plus with a voiceover, which seemed absurd to me. Then the production company finished. But I had been living with this project for three and a half years and was convinced that it could have universal impact. It refers to all wars affecting people, either because they have lived through them, or because they have been handed down by history consciously or unconsciously. I didn’t want to just give it up. The producer left me the cinema rights and so I began to concentrate on festivals. It was screened at the Berlin Film Festival and that was the real beginning. I invested the prizes that I had won and part of my own personal money to carry out the first session of kinescoping. So far, the initial version of the film has appeared at 40 festivals! I needed this period to meet the public to help formalise what had originally been its guiding light…At the same time it also allowed me to work on the project for my next film during this period of reflection.
EB: So this was the beginning of the last phase of De guerre lasses?
LBR: I wasn’t completely satisfied with the kinescoping or the editing. In 2002 I decided to go back to the drawing board and to lengthen the film by the amount necessary to make it into a feature film. The CNC judged my film to be different and so they gave us an advance against the takings after production, and we received support from the regional council of Ile de France through the organisation Thécif. For the new kinescope, we changed from 4/3 to 1.70 to intensify the relationship between the viewers and the women in the film, which required us to re-centre the film shot by shot. The film, which opens at cinemas on 29 October at the beginning of The Documentary Film Month, is therefore a totally original version.
EB: What do you expect from the release of the film?
LBR: Until now, I have only met the public at festivals which is really a captive public, a privileged public. I’d really like to discuss the film with the general public. I hope that people ask themselves what they take from war, war as a collective experience of violence. Wars will not stop the day that they disappear from our screens…
EB: What now?
LBR: There are always well-intentioned people who say to me, “It’s time to do something else now…” But what do they know? I didn’t go to film college, I made a film because at a certain point in my life, I had something to say and cinema was the essential means of expression. It turned out that I took great pleasure from making the film and I’ve still got other things to say and express…but I have to let it develop. I’m not doing this from a career perspective and that gives me great freedom. Nobody else is waiting for me to do anything, only me!