Laura Wandel • Director of Playground
"I thought it would be interesting to take the viewpoint of the witness who feels torn"
- CANNES 2021: The Belgian filmmaker explains the immersive approach characterising her remarkable and incredibly intense first feature film, which was presented in the Un Certain Regard section
Filmed from a child’s perspective and telling a moving, subtle yet incisive tale about bullying at school, Laura Wandel’s first feature film Playground [+see also:
interview: Laura Wandel
film profile] impressed audiences within the Un Certain Regard line-up of the 74th Cannes Film Festival.
Cineuropa: Playground is filmed quite literally from a child’s perspective. Was this your intention from the outset of the project?
Laura Wandel: From the word go, I felt I should only show things from a child’s perspective. I often start with a place which I want to explore, where I want to take my camera. In this instance, it was school and, more specifically, the playground which is one of the first times children are in contact with society without their family: they’re faced with a new microcosm which they need to integrate and where they seek acknowledgement from their peers. I felt it offered huge potential for a fictional story. Then came the idea of the sibling relationship: of placing this relationship within this new community and exploring how the need to integrate and the need for recognition would undermine it. The playground might be where we discover violence, as well as all the new social codes inherent to this microcosm. And Nora, the child at the heart of this film, will learn how to juggle all that.
What research did you carry out in order to produce such an incredibly realistic story?
I watched playgrounds for months. It was essential for me to learn what goes on there these days, although surprisingly they still play more or less the same games as I did in my childhood. In general, when I write, I like to start with reality and turn it into fiction. So I also met lots of children who spoke to me about their experiences at school, parents, teachers, headteachers… I sat in on mediations, etc. It involved a huge amount of work, almost like a documentary, to begin with.
How did you develop the relationship between the little sister, who’s discovering school for the first time, and her older brother who’s bullied there?
I thought it would be interesting to take the viewpoint of the witness who is torn over how to react, which is almost as harrowing an experience. I also thought it would be interesting for the big brother to be the one who was bullied, and to see how the outlook of his little sister, who starts out adoring and adulating him, gradually changes. And how this big brother doesn’t really want his sister to contend with all that. And how brutal it is for him to see his little sister’s view of him change: he’s no longer the protective big brother, and this is another type of problem which arises: the upset it causes between them.
Over and above bullying, you also show the brutality of social integration and the pressure we feel to be accepted.
I really like that there are different levels on which the story can be read, and I wanted Nora’s character to be caught in the middle of lots of different things. The need to integrate and be acknowledged is universal: we all have a constant need for it. All the world’s conflicts revolve around it! Whether in a playground or elsewhere, there’s always an idea of territoriality in conflicts. How do we take up our place? I noticed, for example, that football pitches often take up a lot of room in schools and that those who aren’t playing, play on the sidelines, which gives rise to violence.
The film also takes a look at teachers, who often have good intentions but are also oblivious to much of what goes on.
I really did try not to pass judgement in that respect. The adults try to do the best they can, but they’re swamped: they don’t have time. One of the issues, in terms of violence and bullying too, is that there are so many sides to it, different events which have fed into it, that at a certain point, you can’t even remember how it started anymore, and things can change very quickly with the children then moving on to something else. It’s impossible to keep track of, and adults don’t have the time because there are a lot of children to manage and lots of different arguments. We’re living in a society where things move very quickly and we no longer have the time to try to understand things and to get to the heart of problems, although they’re almost impossible to detect because these things go beyond what happens in the playground: children also bring to school what they learn at home. I tried to include tiny little seeds of this in my film.
(Translated from French)
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