ACCLAIMED newcomer Iris Bry is one of the stars of Xavier Beauvois’ latest film The Guardians. A First World War tale of female resilience and dedication, Iris plays an orphan named Francine who works on a local farm and falls in love with a solider on leave.
Iris joins us on Close-up Culture to discuss the chance meeting that led her to this role, female perspectives of war, working with Xavier Beauvois and much more.
Q: The Guardians – out in UK cinemas 17 August – is your first feature film. Can you tell us what led you to acting and, more specifically, to this role?
A: I STUDIED music and bookselling. I did not really want to become an actress and I had never thought about it seriously. Rather this project came to me – it was a casting director who approached me in the street and suggested I auditioned for the part.
I said yes out of curiosity and it worked out. While acting and being directed, I realized I was really enjoying myself. This kind of story is so rare that it was difficult for me to say ‘no” to this adventure, especially since I knew some of Xavier Beauvois’ films. I knew I was getting involved with someone who was really talented.
Q: Can you talk about your character Francine and how you connected with her?
A: FRANCINE is a special character in the sense that she is the only one who does not have a family – and I think that is important. That is what drives her to try to fit in to the farm and it may be what pushes her into Georges’ arms. It is certainly what drives her to become independent and take charge of her destiny, to keep her child and raise him alone and give him his name (it was quite rare at the time).
I read that, at that time, orphan women without families were more often emancipated at the end of the war than those who had to regain a status compared to men – wives, sisters and girls.
Q: This is a big film and a big role for your first feature film. Did you feel pressure and how did you grow into the role?
A: YES I was scared at first, but Xavier Beauvois reassured me and gave me confidence. Not by working on scenes in advance – he wanted to keep a natural aspect – but rather by desacralize acting. He often said: “It like when you are a child and you imaginary stories with your friends except that you now have costumes and a set. ”
Of course, a movie set is more complex. There are a lot of issues, pressures, and I realize that today, but it was a good way to give me confidence. As I had never seen and lived on a film set before, the apprehension was accompanied by a good dose of excitement and impatience.
Q: What was it like working with Xavier Beauvois? What was his approach to you?
A: XAVIER is an incredible director. On the one hand because he is sensitive and attentive and on the other because he is an actor himself, so he knows what an actor needs. He leaves a lot of freedom to the actors and actresses – it is very pleasant.
I believe that the direction of actors is very important and that it counts enormously, especially when, as a complete beginner, you have to take on a leading role.
Q: It is rare for us to see a World War Two film from a French as well as a female perspective. What appealed to you about this story?
A: IT is precisely the fact that it is seen from the women’s point of view that attracted me.
It is a vision of war – from the homefront – that has not been explored in films or literature. There are examples but so few compared to the number of films, books and documents that exist about soldiers, the frontlines and its battlefields.
What is also interesting is the ambivalence of the women’s behaviour. A wind of freedom blew on them, they started working with tools that were previously forbidden to them, they had to learn to live on their own, and then once the war ended most of them had to resume their lives and go back to being dominated by men.
But it is not so surprising. The men came back traumatized, there were a lot of human losses and the priority was not to emancipate females. Things had to go back to ‘normal’.
Q: The Guardians focuses on female efforts during wartime, but there is also an impressive lists of female working behind the scenes on this film. Did their presence behind the camera add to the film’s female-positive elements?
A: WHEN the shoot started I realized how talented the men and women who worked on The Guardians were.
Sylvie Pialat was always there for me. She accompanied me a little like a godmother. Sylvie, Caroline Champetier and Nathalie Baye are strong figures of French cinema. I was delighted to be at their side.
Indeed, there are often more men than women on the set, but I think this is something that is now starting to change. People are becoming increasingly aware of the need for more women, especially in the context of this last year.
Q: You have received a lot praise for your performance and received a nomination as Best New Actress at the 2018 Cesar Awards. How has your experience been stepping into the world of acting and receiving such feedback?
A: ON the set I did not think at all about the promotion and the events surrounding the film. All that part was a surprise lived with the exaltation of being the first time. I was of course extremely happy with the nomination which is a beautiful professional recognition. What could possibly be better for a first role?
Q: Has The Guardians given you a taste for more acting? If so, who do you aspire to work with?
A: YES. In fact, The Guardians gave birth to a strong desire for cinema, the curiosity to discover how other directors work.
There are so many talented francophone filmmakers whose films carry me. I can name a few with whom I would love to work: Mathieu Amalric, Maiwenn, Albert Dupontel, Riad Sattouf, Lea Mysius, Bouli Lanners, Jacques Audiard, Jean Pierre Jeunet and Laurent Cantet.
It is a long list, but I am also curious to work with directors who I do not know yet. I think that part of the pleasure of this job is to be able to surrender to the universe of someone who guides you, to be at the service of the film.
I like to think that the “best roles” are perhaps those in which we do not necessarily see ourselves, but where someone else can see and imagine us. It can be somewhat surprising, but it leads to some beautiful encounters, both with others and with oneself.