“The Super 8 Years” is a movie about building your own life. French writer Annie Ernault told PAP that this personal story may bring back memories of the journey of many women and families. The documentary, which she made with her son David Ernault-Preot, was shown in the Directors section every two weeks at the 75th Cannes Film Festival.
PAP: You’ve described buying a superb 8 Bell & Howell camera in The Years as “using modernity for wise purposes.” However, we learn from the film that family life was usually portrayed by your then-husband, Philippe Erno, and you were then one of the thirty-somethings who combined school work and motherhood. How did it happen that years later you and your son decided to make a documentary based on these recordings?
Annie Erno: This idea came from my son. He wanted to show his kids the grandfather they’d never met and watch movies again because we haven’t seen them together in a long time. David suggested I comment on it. The material consists of five video tapes recorded in the years 1972-1981. It was a turning point in history, but it was also an important period in my life. It was around this time that my first book came out, and it was an amazing event. At the same time, disagreements began to surface in my marriage which eventually led to its breakup. So I can say that “The Super 8 Years” is a movie about building your own life. I decided that this personal story could reminisce about the journey of many women and families, and could also flow like a Gone With the Wind book over time. I read it at the age of eight and it stayed with me forever.
PAP: In “years” you often use the impersonal singular or the third person, and in the movie – you talk about the first-person plural. Thanks to these less personal forms, you seem to be an observer of your life more than you share it. Did you have a similar feeling while working on the script?
AE: You’re fine. I felt that. This work was not about discovering new facts about me, but about confirming my evolution and writing a comment that could only be understood at a certain time and in the context of my situation as a woman and a married mother. It had no more meaning to my life than writing books. It’s a completely different kind of work, more focused on telling a family story, rather than recreating the trajectory of my personal life.
PAP: The years 1972-1981 have been described as defining further destiny. After watching family videos after a while, I wondered what her life would have been if she hadn’t started writing a book after that?
AE: I went back to those records after ten years. At the time, I wasn’t the same woman I saw on screen. Of course I had such thoughts. It’s amazing in life that some possibilities come true because things happen along the way and some don’t. I may have never started writing a book, but I did and today it is hard for me to imagine any further development. I often tell myself that I would not have written without the man who was the father of my children. It seems to be the starting point. But that’s a misconception because I’ve already written before, even if it’s only in the tray.
PAP: Much of the film consists of pictures of a trip to Chile, Portugal, Albania, Moscow and also to Spain, where you and your family only went after the death of General Franco. To what extent did political issues determine your travel destinations?
AE: We made a rule that we wouldn’t go to a Franco-ruled country and leave any money there, prop up the economies, write anything. Of course, it was an ideological question. From a personal point of view, the trip to Chile was very important to me. As we were walking around Santiago, exploring the city, my thoughts returned to my family. Not the closest, because the parents were doing better at the time, but they were excluded from the culture of their distant relatives who lived in poverty. I realized there was a gap between who I was in my childhood and teenage years and who I am now. At that time, she became a woman who travels to Chile to monitor poverty.
PAP: What was the movie role in your life in the 1970s?
AE: It didn’t take up much space in it. This is because I did not have time to go to the cinema. My schedule was full of different activities. I split my time between home, children, and work at school. When I found a free moment I preferred to spend it writing. Earlier, in the sixties, cinema had a great influence on me. Italian cinema was of particular interest to me, especially the films of Michelangelo Antonioni and Pier Paolo Pasolini.
PAP: Since we’re in the cinema, how did you react to the success of the film adaptation of your book “It Happened” by Audrey Dewan during last year’s festival in Venice?
Abdel Latif: I am very satisfied that this text appeared on the screen. I think the Audrey Dewan movie is very good. Most importantly, thanks to the Golden Lion in Venice, the debate on the reproductive rights of women resumed. It happened as the darkest parties once again pushed for their conservative and ambiguous views in Europe.
PAP: Are there any taboos to be broken today?
Abdul Mohsen: There is no doubt that there are still taboos. Little has been said about menopause, for example, and the fact that women who have gone through it still want to develop. The relationship between a menopausal woman and a younger man is still considered a strange thing. Classified as a cougar, it is a predatory cat that “hunts game” to satisfy its needs. The role of women in society has always been diminishing. This applies not only to intimate matters, but practically every aspect of life. Men are supposed to dominate.
Take, for example, my field of work – literature. In any society, a writer is subconsciously associated with a man in the first place. I can quote many anecdotes and insulting stories from my life. Let me give you one example. Once, a physiotherapist asked me what I do. When I told him I was a writer he asked me “Oh really?” In his skepticism, it was clear that women’s writing of books was strange. Nevertheless, I am convinced that if a man answered the same question, “I am a writer,” he would be accepted as the most natural thing in the world.
Daria Borica (PAP) gave an interview in Cannes
Directed by Annie Erno and her son David Ernault-Preot, The Super 8 Years was presented at the Directors’ Week Section of the 75th Cannes Film Festival. Annie Ernault is responsible for the script and narration, and Philip Ernault is responsible for the cinematography. The film’s producers are David Theon and Philip Martin.
Annie Ernault (born 1940) is one of the most important contemporary French writers, a feminist, graduated in contemporary literature from the universities of Rouen and Bordeaux. I grew up in Lifitot in a working class family. After graduation, she worked in schools where she studied French. She made her debut as a writer in 1974 with the autobiographical novel “Les Armoires vides” about a student who undergoes an illegal abortion. In 2021, Audrey Dewan brought her book to the big screen. Currently, Ernaux has more than 20 books to his credit, including “Ce qu’ils disent ou rien”, “The Place” and “Une femme”. She has received several prestigious awards, including the Renaudot Award, Marguerite Yoursenaar and Premio Striga Europa. In 2019, her book “The Years” was nominated for a Booker Prize. “Lata” was released in Poland this year by Czarne Publishing. Earlier, in 1989, PIW published a mini-novel “Miejsce”. (PAP)
Author: Daria Borica