Di­rec­tor XAVIER GIANNOLI probed into his own reli­gious be­liefs when mak­ing his lat­est film, as he tells

France - - Contents - Pierre de Vil­liers

The film­maker talks about his lat­est re­lease, The Ap­pari­tion.

Some­times di­rec­tors use films as a form of ther­apy. Take Xavier Giannoli. For years, the film­maker suf­fered a cri­sis of faith, not know­ing how he felt about re­li­gion. To ex­or­cise his demons, Giannoli turned to his craft, mak­ing a movie that delves deep into the strange world of Mar­ian ap­pari­tions (su­per­nat­u­ral sight­ings of the Vir­gin Mary) and those who in­ves­ti­gate the phe­nom­e­non.

“I knew that the Church some­times held in­ves­tiga­tive com­mis­sions on al­leged su­per­nat­u­ral events such as mirac­u­lous heal­ings or ap­pari­tions,” the French di­rec­tor says, dis­cussing his lat­est film, The Ap­pari­tion. “Then, one day, I read an ar­ti­cle about these mys­te­ri­ous ‘canon­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tions’. These com­mis­sions aren’t nec­es­sar­ily made up of reli­gious peo­ple. There are doc­tors or his­to­ri­ans who are asked by a bishop to gather eye­wit­ness ac­counts and pre­cise events so as to de­ter­mine where it is an im­pos­ture... or not. The point of view of a thor­ough doc­u­men­tary in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the sup­posed proof of the ex­is­tence of God cor­re­sponded to the es­sen­tial doubt I felt in my life.”

By the time Giannoli put the ar­ti­cle down, there was a light­bulb hov­er­ing over his head. He would write a script about a man who in­ves­ti­gates an al­leged sight­ing of the Vir­gin Mary in France. The in­ves­ti­ga­tor had to be some­one who, like Giannoli, was not a the­olo­gian but was search­ing for the truth. “I had the idea of this jour­nal­ist char­ac­ter who goes to in­ves­ti­gate a seem­ingly un­be­liev­able oc­cur­rence,” the di­rec­tor re­calls. “He’s not be­ing holier-thanthou or a cyn­i­cal athe­ist, just a free man who wants to sort out what is true and what isn’t.”

Putting pen to pa­per, Giannoli fleshed out a char­ac­ter called Jac­ques, a world-weary war cor­re­spon­dent tasked by the Vat­i­can to in­ves­ti­gate a claim by teenager Anna that she saw the Vir­gin Mary. Like Jac­ques, Giannoli had to go on a fact-find­ing mis­sion to un­der­stand the blind de­vo­tion of believ­ers as he wrote the sto­ry­line for The Ap­pari­tion. “I had dis­cus­sions with priests,” he re­calls. “One day, I asked one of them: ‘When you die, will you be less afraid, be­cause you be­lieve in eter­nal life?’ There was a pause, then he replied: ‘As I close my eyes, first I’ll tell my­self: I hope I wasn’t wrong...’ That deeply moved me.”

Like a scene out of a Dan Brown movie, Giannoli also dove into Church archives to study the history of ap­pari­tions. “I found a list of ap­pari­tions ‘au­then­ti­cated’ by the Vat­i­can like Ber­nadette Soubirous [who put the small town of Lour­des on the map],” re­veals the di­rec­tor. “There are dozens of oth­ers be­fore and af­ter her. I found the photo of a young vi­sion­ary with an elec­troen­cephalo­gram cap on her head and her hands joined in prayer while her brain’s elec­tric waves were an­a­lysed to test whether she was telling the truth. There was a strange poetry in that photo, as if tech­nol­ogy were ca­pa­ble of prob­ing the mys­ter­ies of the soul.”

Af­ter ex­ten­sive re­search, Giannoli came to the con­clu­sion that the Church would rather not au­then­ti­cate any ap­pari­tions. “I think they are a hin­drance to them,” says the di­rec­tor. “Faith doesn’t need proof or it’s no longer faith.”

When it came to cast mem­bers, Giannoli man­aged to land his first choice for Jac­ques, Vin­cent Lin­don. Find­ing an ac­tress to play Anna meant watch­ing hours of screen tests, though. As soon as Galatea Bel­lugi popped up on screen, Giannoli knew he had struck cin­e­matic gold.

“I was told that she had acted in a few films but didn’t re­ally know if she wanted to be­come an ac­tress, although she has unique pres­ence,” the di­rec­tor re­calls. “Ev­ery day I spent with her on the shoot was a mo­ment of grace. She is both fa­mil­iar and enig­matic, ev­ery­thing a di­rec­tor dreams of.”

With the right cast and sto­ry­line in place, Giannoli was able to cre­ate a film that has the char­ac­ter of a spir­i­tual jour­ney for both him and the au­di­ence. “It’s very im­por­tant for me that cinema is a spec­ta­cle,” he says. “The spec­ta­cle of our lives as we search for our­selves.”

The Ap­pari­tion is in cin­e­mas from 3 Au­gust. See Pierre’s re­view on page 84

CINEMA Cleo From 5 to 7 (Cin­e­mas from 3 Au­gust) First re­leased in 1962, the film fol­lows a young fe­male singer as she wan­ders Paris while await­ing the results of a med­i­cal test that will con­firm whether she has can­cer. The Guardians (Cin­e­mas from 17 Au­gust) A woman hires a young or­phan to help out on her fam­ily’s farm dur­ing World War I in Xavier Beau­vois’s in­trigu­ing drama.

Jean-jac­ques Jauf­fret’s de­but fea­ture Heat­wave (on DVD from 20 Au­gust) is based on real events and sees four lives in­ter­sect dur­ing a swel­ter­ing af­ter­noon in the South of France.

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