Kilian Riedhof explores grief with “You will not have my hate”

In Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera “Orpheus and Eurydice” Orpheus has to travel to the underworld to see his dead wife Eurydice again. To do this, he must appease the Furies, the goddesses of vengeance, and hold on to his love for his wife.

German director Kilian Riedhof had opera in mind when he adapted Antoine Leiris’ autobiographical book You Will Not Have My Hate. The world premiere of the film will take place on August 12th in the Piazza Grande at the Locarno Film Festival.

The book is based on Leiris’ experiences following the killing of his wife Hélène Muyal-Leiris by Islamic State jihadists on November 13, 2015 at the Bataclan nightclub – one of 130 people killed that evening in a series of terrorist attacks across Paris .

The film begins on that fateful day when Hélène is preparing dinner for her toddler Melvil and the couple talks about a holiday in Corsica that they had to give up so that Hélène could pursue freelance work. Later, Hélène goes to the Bataclan with a friend, Bruno.

We follow journalist and author Leiris, played by Pierre Deladonchamps, as he learns of the attack on the club and his growing sense of fear after learning from Bruno that Hélène has been injured. Leiris and his brother embark on a frantic tour of hospitals in search of Hélène, but eventually discover that she did not survive.

Three days later, after seeing his wife’s body in the morgue, Leiris posts an open letter on Facebook. He addresses the assassins in moving words and denies his hatred for “the dead souls” – and that of his son. He writes: “On Friday night you stole the life of an extraordinary being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred.” Front page of the Paris newspaper Le Monde printed. Leiris becomes a well-known media commentator, but at home he struggles to come to terms with the loss of his wife and to cope with being a single parent.

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“You Won’t Have My Hate”
Courtesy of Accomplices Film

Riedhof only met Leiris twice before making the film. When they first met – accompanied by producer Janine Jackowski – it was about “getting to know each other and gaining trust,” says Riedhof. The rights to his story were sought after worldwide, but Leiris wasn’t sure he wanted an adaptation. The fact that both the director and the producer are Germans was seen as an advantage, as they can see what is happening from afar, says Riedhof.

“For me, meeting Antoine was one of the most emotional moments of my work as a director. Because I knew that we weren’t just talking about a novel, but about Antoine’s fate, which had taken its course less than 24 months ago,” says Riedhof. After the meeting, Leiris agreed to the film.

Riedhof reunited with Leiris six months later, accompanied by co-writers Marc Blöbaum and Jan Braren. They asked him for the details of his story to make the film as authentic as possible. He then told them that from that point forward it was their story and he didn’t want to be involved in the creative process.

Since the film was completed, Riedhof has shown it to Leiris, who was “very touched by it; he was really overwhelmed,” says Riedhof. “He said he could relate to the film, find himself in the story, and it was very close to his experience.”

It was casting director Constance Demontoy who suggested Deladonchamps for the role of Leiris, and during the audition Riedhof saw a resemblance – not only in terms of appearance but also psychologically – between the actor and the real Leiris. “There’s a fragility and a certain distinction that he shares with Antoine,” says Riedhof. The two had to have “in a way the same soul.” Leiris is an intellectual and describes himself as “Bobo”, as a bourgeois bohemian, which the actor is able to convey. Deladonchamp’s ability to express his character’s inner state “transparently and tangibly” was very important, says Riedhof.

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“You Won’t Have My Hate”
Courtesy of Accomplices Film

The focus of the film is the portrayal of the child who plays Melvil. The search for a suitable candidate stretched across four countries and finally the choice fell on three-year-old Zoé Iorio. A child coach worked with Iorio for three months to enable her to perform as the script called for. “Few children, and Zoé in particular, can express their thoughts and feelings and give you, the viewer, the opportunity to look into their soul and grasp the inner storyline and not just the outer storyline,” says Riedhof.

As Riedhof read the book, he thought about his relationship with his own child, who was a similar age to Melvil, and imagined how he would deal with it if this happened to him. But while he could identify with the main character, the challenge was to bring the book’s “inside view” of Leiris’ life to the screen, written “poetically” with very little plot. The other question was how to manifest the evil the terrorists represented – the potential object of Leiris’ hatred – without showing the attack itself, which would have been too “on the face,” says Riedhof. He adds that it was a condition of Leiris that they should not dramatize that part of the story.

In the film, Riedhof did not want to focus on the perpetrators, but on the victims of the attack and show that it is not just about the death of a woman, but the destruction of a family. “It’s one thing to talk about terrorism politically, but to feel the impact, to feel terrorism as an anti-family force, that’s so striking in this story and so touching, and that makes us cry as we read the story.” “

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“You Won’t Have My Hate”
Courtesy of Leonore Mueller

The effects of the attacks on French society are conveyed, among other things, by the television news that Leiris watches. The use of mobile technology, social media and traditional media to convey information is an important element of the film. For example, Leiris received the first reports about the attack via SMS, and he responded to the terrorists on Facebook. This post is shared 250,000 times and triggers a large number of comments from all over the world. We then see Leiris appearing on TV shows to talk about his views. Finally, we see him steel himself to watch a video of the attack on YouTube.

“I think it was important – for a while – for Antoine to have this media resonance just to survive,” says Riedhof. “At one point in an interview he said, ‘Well, we live alone, the three of us.’ So in a way he could keep [the memory of his wife alive], even though she was dead.” It was sort of a coping mechanism for Leiris, says Riedhof. Eventually, though, it got to be too much for him — the pressures of that unwanted fame and public expectations. “He’s a public hero; People recognize him on the subway. So he has to get rid of it, otherwise he would be abandoning himself and his son. And I think what really helps him is standing up for his son.”

Another element of the film is a change in Leiris’ relationship with his brother and sister and his wife’s mother and sister after the attack. “You can see that he is closer to them at the end than at the beginning. Because at first I think he wants to exclusively preserve the memory of his dead wife. This story is about how he comes to share his grief, share his feelings with his family and discover that they can help him.”

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Killian Riedhof
Courtesy of Mathias Bothor

Most of the action takes place in Leiris’ apartment, giving the film an almost claustrophobic feel, with touches of madness and horror as he grapples with his loss. As already mentioned, Riedhof had Gluck’s opera Orpheus and Eurydice in mind. “I think it has to do with the forces of darkness, which are obviously the forces of terrorism. And on the other side there is the heavenly appearance of his wife. So it has to do with hell and heaven, with light and dark, and it oscillates between these two poles. So it was important not to give a realistic description, but to immerse ourselves in this underground world of a man who loses his wife in such a tragic and brutal way.”

“You Will Not Have My Hate” is produced by Jackowski, Jonas Dornbach and Maren Ade at Komplizen Film. It is co-produced by Haut et Court, the French distributor, and Frakas Productions. Beta Cinema handles worldwide distribution.

Next up for Riedhof is the World War II drama Stella. A Life.” with “Undine” actress Paula Beer. Based on a true story, it is about the German-Jewish jazz singer Stella, who – after being tortured by the Gestapo and threatened with deportation – agrees to be a “catcher”, someone who tracks down fellow Jews in hiding. From September 1943 until the end of the war, she handed over hundreds of Jews to the Gestapo. The film is distributed by Global Screen. Kilian Riedhof explores grief with “You will not have my hate”

Charles Jones

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