IFFR 2020: An Interview With ‘Antigone’ Director Sophie Deraspe

Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge caught up with Antigone director Sophie Deraspe ahead of the film’s screening at the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2020.

Antigone, a modern adaptation of the Greek tragedy, tells the story of a young woman with an indestructible love of family and justice as she takes on the authorities.

Q: What does it mean to you to bring ‘Antigone’ to the International Film Festival Rotterdam?

A: IFFR was the first major international film festival I ever attended, with Les Signes Vitaux (2010). I was impressed by the quality of the huge screenings and audiences. The film happened to have a great run after Rotterdam. I am therefore very glad to come back!

Q: I understand you first read Antigone, the Greek tragedy, in your early twenties. What was it about this story that struck a chord with you and stuck with you over the years?

A: I was struck by Antigone’s intelligence, her sincerity, her incorruptibility. Despite her young age, her limited experience and the power of her opponent (the King), Antigone stands upright. This tragedy was invigorating for me! Antigone’s quest for justice is all the stronger because it is based on laws that she deems superior to those written by men. Antigone was talking so much to the young woman I was, that a strong intuition told me that I would one day dive back into it…

Q: I find that my understanding and relationship with stories shifts over time. Do you have a different understanding of Antigone now compared to your early twenties?

A: I could relate to Antigone’s rebellion when I was in my twenties. The Antigone I wrote though is more dictated by love. Something I learned is stronger than the anger. Maybe because I have had kids since.

Q: Was there an event or moment that triggered you to make this modern-day adaptation of Sophocles’ tragedy?

A: A police shooting in a Montreal park involving two brothers who arrived in Canada many years earlier as refugees. The kind of story that happens way too often in our contemporary Western cities. I began to imagine that the sister of the victim could be an Antigone. What would she do to keep what’s left of her family. Fiction has developed from there…

My motivation was empathy towards a family tragedy that has a much deeper resonance than what the headlines in the papers or the comments on social media can inform us with.


Q: As you’ve alluded to, the story follows a young woman as she stands up to the laws of man. It feels all the more relevant given the recent rise of Greta Thunberg. What does this character have to offer in 2020?

A: There are moments in our life – or moments in history – where we have to resist a system that fails us.

Q: What does Nahéma Ricci bring to her role as Antigone?

A: For the casting, I had to look beyond the marked roads here in Quebec to form a credible Maghrebi family of four who speak the quebecois type of French we speak here and to feel at home in this country. I therefore launched an appeal through social networks, and I received more than 850 applications and auditioned nearly 300 people. The work continued with a small number of them, from which emerged this beautiful group of actors and actresses who played for the first time leading roles in a film, including Nahéma Ricci, who stood up to the expectations in inhabiting the mythical Antigone.

Her lack of experience or professional acting schooling was not an obstacle. Being a cinematographer myself I could sense her depth and how captivating she is for a camera that is attentive to her charisma. The rest was up to her and me. Our work was meticulous, attentive and assiduous.

Q: I’m glad you bring up your work as DoP on the film. Can you tell us about the film’s visual style and why you like to have a hands-on approach to it?

A: To me the camera work is a choreography with the actors. I love this dance, often meticulously planned, sometimes improvised in an organic manner because we know each other so well. Perhaps because I started in documentary, I was used to listening carefully to those in front of my lens and to anticipating their reactions. I have always been very attentive to the people and emotions as well as the lighting and framing that would magnify them. The rest is movement, colors, contrasts. Art to convey a story. Or is it a story to convey art?

Q: What do you hope audiences take away from your version of Antigone? 

A: Life is complex. Being part of the micro society of our family and having to deal with the world as citizens is complex. It can be as tragic as it is beautiful when seen through the lens of empathy, integrity and love.

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