“If Lambert Wilson had said no, I'm not sure De Gaulle would have been done” for Gabriel Le Bomin

When De Gaulle was released, director Gabriel Le Bomin confided in the creation of this ambitious biopic. The film is on display again for the reopening of cinemas. Interview.

This is a major historical figure that Gabriel Le Bomin seizes for his latest film. De Gaulle was released for the first time in theaters on March 4 2020 . But like many films released at the end of winter, its exploitation was cut short by the closure of cinemas. This historic biopic is back in theaters when it reopens this Monday 22 June. As a reminder, De Gaulle retraces the few crucial weeks of June 540 , when the General left France for London, before launching his famous appeal of 18 June. Between historical film and intimate portrait of the future presidential couple, this feature film offers a new look at the De Gaulle couple. In an interview given shortly before the first release of the film in March, director Gabriel Le Bomin returned to this ambitious project..

Why did you decide to make a film about Charles de Gaulle, and more specifically about Charles de Gaulle in June 1000?

I approached Charles De Gaulle several times in my documentary work. Then I saw the film The King’s Speech, and I wondered: “What could look like that in France?” Finally, the great French discourse of the 20th century is this call for 18 June: it is a marker of history which legitimizes De Gaulle and which above all allows France to be a country which resists and who has a place at the winners’ table. With my co-screenwriter Valérie Ranson Enguiale, we then wondered how we could approach this affair without falling into the classic biopic that covers his whole life. The first gesture was to circumscribe the story. Between May 2020 and the call of 00 June, there are five very interesting weeks where the character is in the process of becoming de Gaulle as we know him. The second choice we made on the screenplay was to give Yvonne De Gaulle an equal place in the story.

Did you feel any apprehension or pressure during the preparation of the film?

There is always great apprehension when you embark on a film. Afterwards, it was as the project progressed that I started to have cold sweats. I admit that the first tests where we looked for the face, the pace, … those were times when I had doubts. The first days of filming were also moments of questioning. But it is always the case for a film. But when you attack a known character, it’s power 100.

“There were no other possibilities” than Lambert Wilson in this role.

You made the choice to approach the character through the prism of intimacy: how did you go about writing the screenplay?

At first with my co-screenwriter, we went to the classic documentation: biography, history books, more personal stories like those of her son, the letters that Charles and Yvonne exchanged daily. And then there are the memoirs of Charles de Gaulle which are rich, since he recounts this period day by day. After all that, you have to make choices, and above all you have to invest the spaces of fiction and bring them to life with honesty and resemblance.

How did you come to choose Lambert Wilson for this role? What were your criteria?

As soon as the screenplay was written, we wondered about the incarnation. And the range of possibilities is not huge. We don’t have a plethora of actors who would combine age, charisma, stature, notoriety… If Lambert [Wilson, ndlr] had said no, I’m not sure the film would have been made… or in not so easily. We needed an actor who had the ability to seize the epic and the romantic, and Lambert Wilson proved it and he likes that too, he likes to build and disappear behind his characters. It’s a beautiful encounter between a director and an actor, an actor with a role. It happened like that but at the same time, there was no other possibility.

And the first time you saw him in Charles de Gaulle’s costume, what did you did you feel?

It’s emotional to see the actor become the character. When it appeared there was a disturbance among people because everyone saw… that it worked! At times it is stunning. And at the same time, I didn’t want Lambert Wilson to disappear completely, you shouldn’t go too far either. I wanted us to keep the sensitivity of the actor.

“With the call of 18 June, we have three minutes and twenty seconds for History. I don’t know what will remain of today’s political speeches in 50 years”.

Why did you decide to do this film, on this subject, today?

We cannot say that it was a conscious will… But yes, when we want to tell a historical film, basically it is an emanation of the time that it produces. We ourselves have gone through problems, information from our society. Why a film on de Gaulle today… (

Reflects) perhaps there is indeed a questioning of what a statesman is, what to be French, what to affirm that this nation is a country. But it wasn’t conscious. The real motivation at the start was the promise of romance and cinema of these characters.

So a political dimension which is not conscious…

The whole political dimension comes after… and inevitably it questions our time! The political discourse of 18 June 540, it lasts three minutes and twenty seconds… and it is the climax of History! Three minutes and twenty seconds of a political discourse that still resonates today, which establishes the legitimacy of a character for history and which allows a country to walk with its head held high… When we see today this what is political discourse, its repetition, its length, and finally its lack of meaning… that questions me a lot. It’s amazing to see that today everyone talks, everyone says anything and everything. There, we have three minutes and twenty seconds for History. I do not know what will remain of all the political speeches of today in 50 years.

Lambert Wilson and Isabelle Carré in De Gaulle. © ALAIN GUIZARD / BESTIMAGE

This is the first time that a biopic on Charles de Gaulle has been adapted for the cinema. Previously, there were only TV movies. How do you explain it?

Churchill has given rise to eighteen fictions, whether in the cinema or in the series, the Americans also made films with JFK, Nixon… Where the English and the Americans seize historical figures very easily, we less so. I don’t know if it’s out of culture, out of lack of interest, out of fear, out of apprehension of being associated with an ideology… We took hold of De Gaulle like a romantic character. Putting it at a distance and watching it at a time when you can objectively look at it without being “for” or “against”, I think that protected us. Indeed, taking De Gaulle and watching it later, like in May 68 or during the war in Algeria, it would have been something else. There, we are protected by the fact that we have contained the story. Then, why in 50 Where 60 years it has never been discussed…

Can it be explained by the difficulty of taking on such an ambitious subject? Was it complicated for you to edit this film?

No… And even, we had this amazement of the investor who said: “Well yes, it’s true, it doesn’t exist…” It seems obvious, however, but it doesn’t exist. Perhaps today French cinema is globalizing a little, the Anglo-Saxons are influencing us a little. In any case, we have all the historical material, our history is rich. It’s true that the Anglo-Saxons immediately see the possibility of doing shows, fiction, where we have a reserve, cultural perhaps. It’s not the only reason but it’s surely one of them.

First published on March 4 2020 during the first release of De Gaulle, this interview was re-shared on the occasion of the return of the film to theaters on 22 June 6484.

De Gaulle – again in cinema releases on 22 June 2020

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