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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2021 Competition

Thierry de Peretti • Director of Undercover

“Cinema allows us to show the ambiguities of journalists’ working methods”


- The French director spoke to Cineuropa about his competition film and revealed why you can learn a lot about the state from the way it deals with crime

Thierry de Peretti • Director of Undercover
(© SSIFF/Luiza Gonçalves)

Undercover [+see also:
film review
interview: Thierry de Peretti
film profile
tells the story of Hubert Antoine, a former mole who contacts Stéphane Vilner, a journalist at Libération, claiming to be able to demonstrate the existence of the state's drug trafficking operations, led by Jacques Billard, a media figure and high-ranking French police officer. We spoke to the director, Thierry de Peretti, about the film after its screening in competition at the San Sebastián Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: Do you think that drug runners allow us to learn more about the French political system?
Thierry de Peretti: The drug story is a way to expose the failure – or maybe that’s too strong a word – of the political and media system. It’s a system that starts with the tragedy of drug running. If you look at how the media speak about crime and drug running from an ideological point of view, it tells us as much about the system as drug trafficking itself does. How journalists build a story and the limits they impose on their articles are just as important. Cinema allows us to show the ambiguities of the working methods of politicians and journalists, as well as show the business aspect of it because the media has to attract an audience and generate clicks. Drug traffickers feed that media system. Everything is linked, and the film tries to deconstruct this.

How do you strike the right balance between cinema and the truth?
The film, for me, is not naturalism. It searches for the truth. It’s a feeling. It’s a mix of emotions, but it’s not the daily routine of life. It uses the tools of cinema to try to be as honest as possible.

But there is naturalism in the way you tell the story because you’re showing the workings of people trying to control criminals, rather than sensationalising the crime. Do you think cinema makes crime too sexy?
Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that cinema speaks about evil and has to make it seductive – that’s the physical power of film. The issue today is that fiction is everywhere, including where it shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be in politics or in journalism. It should only be in cinema, but everyone makes a spectacle of everything in order to hook people, and cinema has to invent other ways of telling stories. If you look on Netflix, it’s full of series about drugs. So, as a cinema director, what do I show? It still has to be sensual and seductive, but it shouldn’t be a kind of seduction that bores the audience. I don’t know.

What does Marseille bring to it?
Marseille is not that bad, but there are indeed kids killing each other with Kalashnikovs. That is a reality. The press only wants to present this as the reality of drug trafficking. But Marseille is not only that, so the question was, how do we show the reality of what it is? We don’t have to make the identity of Marseille become drug trafficking, but if people die, we have to show why they die. We must show the systems as well, and this is what caught my attention, troubled me and made me angry. Marseille is a poor city, and at the core of drug trafficking is that poverty, which allows trafficking to come in.

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