Jean-Charles Hue is a French screenwriter and film director. His first two features, The Lord’s Ride and Eat Your Bones, take place within a community rarely depicted in cinema: the Yeniche of northern France. The Lord's Ride premiered at the IndieLisboa International Independent Film Festival, while Eat Your Bones premiered at Cannes' Quinzaine des Réalisateurs.
In an exclusive interview with Filmatique, Jean-Charles Hue explores the genesis of his inspiration for these stories, Yeniche orthodoxies, and his next project.
FILMATIQUE: Both The Lord's Ride and Eat Your Bones are set within a small Yeniche enclave in Northern France. How did you gain access to this community? What is the genesis of their story?
JEAN-CHARLES HUE: My maternal great-grandfather was Yeniche (a nomadic ethnic group, close to gypsies, with origins in Central Europe). He settled down and thus lost his nomadic culture. Around the age of twenty I learned that one of my uncles had crossed paths with a part of our family still committed to a nomadic lifestyle. So I started looking for this group of people without much result until I met the Dorkel family. We had the same name without being of the same blood, and they greeted me as one of their own. This generous gesture amazed me; they were considered dangerous people with links to organized crime. Meanwhile, the mother had converted to Christianity.
FLMTQ: The Yeniche seem to willingly inhabit the fringes of society: Racli is a disparaging term used by the brothers to distinguish non-Romany— others on the outside. What drew you to this insular community? What aspects of Yeniche life do you find most fascinating, most cinematic?
JCH: Their vocabulary, their customs and a certain vision of the world quickly struck me as magical. Sometimes as white magic, sometimes as black magic; sometimes to reject or accept the other. They are on the fringe of society, entrenched in the places where God, like the Devil, may appear from one moment to the next. It is always sacred and gregarious.
I love above all the idea that extremes coexist together in the same place and the same life. With them I do not feel condemned to reality, to a certain materialism that forced me long ago to deny a part of myself. And the most cinematic aspect, in my eyes, is how they aspire equally to light as to darkness. They affirm a totalizing picture of themselves, a complete picture, and at the same time belong to a totemic age in which human beings aren’t separated from this world, but are rather animals like any other.
FLMTQ: Members of the Dorkel clan comprise the cast in both The Lord's Ride and Eat Your Bones. Can you discuss the process and choice to cast real life people, especially kin? What were the challenges? The benefits?
JCH: No one could play their roles for them and anyway it would have made no sense to me. I film culture and adventures that we have lived together. These movies are like testimonials. I made some short films of the family until one day Fred Dorkel told me of his wish to make a real film. The Dorkels don’t go to the cinema; these films are the cinema of their lives told with a narrative and mythological power.
And I like the strange feeling of plunging into fiction with those who have lived the true events described in the film. A strange flutter occurs for them and for me. They become actors in their own lives. They engage the extremely rich terrain of cinema that surrounds them.
FLMTQ: To what extent were the actors complicit in the storytelling?
JCH: For Eat Your Bones, Fred and I lived this nocturnal adventure. The uncle, Pierrot, had spent several years in prison— we found a glass eye in his trunk, like a sign teetering from the afterlife. Throughout filming, Fred and I always wanted to keep in mind what connected us to that night as to not betray his madness, his magic and especially the incredible feeling we have in the face of inexplicable things in our lives.
FLMTQ: In both films, a rogue brother undergoing a crisis of faith threatens to destabilize the bonds of family. How do you believe these bonds, particularly brotherhood, cement the characters' fates to each other? What happens when the strict moral code by which the Yeniche live is threatened?
JCH: Survival is linked to the idea of united community. For them, even violence can be a necessary act, to push out bad blood and restore order. They suffer from being in such close proximity to one another; at the same time, this proximity is their only guarantee of both cultural and physical survival. Thus, the idea of family in a broad sense: in the case of thieves for example, or scavengers, those bound together by mischief can be called a family.
One can deviate a little from the rules of family, especially when young. There are consequences, but his sins will ultimately be forgiven. On the other hand, what cannot be forgiven are deeds that betray the soul of the group, its status as “Men” or “Travelers.” These deeds put the family at risk; they cannot draw the evil eye from the clan, from the blood of their ancestors. A true traveler is more afraid of dying of shame than death by sword.
FLMTQ: In The Lord's Ride, older brother Fred is the protagonist whose identity is jeopardized by questions of faith. In Eat Your Bones, Fred's return from jail suspends his younger brother, Jason, between two paths: a life of petty crime, or the baptism of the evangelicals. How difficult was it for Fred to reconcile these two extremes? How essential are both paths to the Yeniche way of life?
JCH: Fred has lived, in his flesh, two movements: faith and crime. His life and body bear these two seals: his soothing blue eyes open to the unknown, and a huge scar across his throat reminds him what he risks if he were to step aside. In each movie, Fred drew upon different periods of his life to interpret his role. The battle still rages in him. His soul is not at rest, nor his body. I think this is his strength, and part of the secret of his incredible performance in the two films we made together.
FLMTQ: Any new projects in the works?
JCH: A project in Tijuana, Mexico this summer and then quickly after, shooting in the snowy mountains of France with Fred Dorkel in his top form.