On December 17, 2012, Maureen Kerney, a high-profile trade unionist, was found in her home, bound to a chair, the letter A carved in her stomach, and a knife handle stuck in her privates. Maureen knows it’s her job that made her a target. This fact – uncovered in a tweet by Caroline Michel-Aguirre upon the publishing of her book La Syndicaliste – interested Jean-Paul Salomé and prompted him to make this story reach a greater audience. Salomé directed several films, including Belphegor: Phantom of the Louvre (2001), Adventures of Arsene Lupin (2004), and more recently Mama Weed (2020), starring Isabelle Huppert, who is also the protagonist in The Sitting Duck.
How did Caroline Michel-Aguirre’s book inspire you?
The Kerney affaire is very relevant, though little known in France and abroad because it involves both left-wing and right-wing elements, which makes it difficult for either to use the scandal against the other. It was covered up, basically, but I felt it needed to be made more public, especially given the current political climate of France re: nuclear energy and energy independence. This is my first political film and it is the story of a woman in a man’s world, a woman who wasn’t educated in the best schools but is a woman of the people, a trade unionist who cares about people that look like her and is forced, because of his convictions, to face men who won’t give their power up easily. I wanted to tell a story about this power imbalance and give prominence to Caroline Michel-Aguirre’s conclusion, which are even scarier than the facts themselves.
As a filmmaker, what makes you pick a story?
Oftentimes, it is a character that inspires me. The book La Syndicaliste feels like an investigative report, and it offered a realistic base to build a fictional story on. The book keeps some things under wraps, especially about Maureen Kearney. Building upon Michel-Aguirre’s work, Isabelle Hupper and I let our imaginations create our vision for her character, her personality, and her relationships with her family.
Written by Fadette Drouard and Jean-Paul Salomé as an adaptation of Caroline Michel-Aguirre’s book La Syndacaliste, the film tells the real story of Maureen Kearney, who in 2012, became an informer about classified information that threatened the French nuclear ind...
Written by Fadette Drouard and Jean-Paul Salomé as an adaptation of Caroline Michel-Aguirre’s book La Syndacaliste, the film tells the real story of Maureen Kearney, who in 2012, became an informer about classified ...
This is your second time working with Isabelle Huppert. Are you looking forward to the next?
After Mama Weed, we promised each other we would work together again. When I read Caroline Michel-Aguirre’s book and saw Maureen Kearney’s pictures, I thought of Isabelle right away. She expressed interest herself, and I wrote the film with her in mind. I am happy to say we renewed our promise! We do want to make more cinema, but we are still looking for the right idea at the moment. We are good together, we love our synergy, and there is a natural feeling, a sort of artistic emulation that inspires us both.
A passion for film noir
I also made comedies, though it’s true that I often allow the news to inspire me, or a character that has a particular depth to it, or a noir novel. I grew up with popular cinema, with films by Lellouche and Melville – directors unlike one another, though both keen on meeting people and pique their interest. I, too, would like to tell something about our world using cinema this way, be it with a comedy, a thriller, a drama. I want film to talk to the audience.
I must also admit that my choices have been guided by my children growing up. They are my primary audience. Twenty years ago, I made Belphegor: Phantom of the Louvre or Adventures of Arsene Lupin. Today, my eldest is 32, they’re grown-ups now, and I want to keep sharing relevant stories with them. My children are also quite severe critics. It stresses me more to show my new films to them than to a festival’s audience!
Your first time at the Venice Film Festival
I participated once in my role of President of the UniFrance organization, though never as a director, which makes me feel honoured. This is a dream come true, and it’s only natural for a director to want enjoy the challenge of a festival and see his film confront a cultivated audience like the one at Venice. It is a great joy. It is also stressful – we released the film’s final cut last week! Photography ended in April and we gave our all to be ready for Venice. And we made it!