6th May 2020
Filmed in Berlin, yet our story starts in Paris …
Existentialism, rebirth, personas and inner truth
Walking along the iconic bookstalls of Paris, by the historic Seine, I found a copy of this book:
The philosophy by Jean-Paul Sartre was the inspiration behind my 2005 film, ‘Bad Faith’.
To encapsulate a weighty, heavy-going and often impenetrable book (at least to me) in a succinct sentence or two, Sartre discusses the concept of bad faith (mauvaise foi) whereby people adopt a false persona or identity, become affected, fake, inauthentic and, as a consequence, loose their freedom.
Freedom was a major issue in the writings of Sartre, so please use the internet to discover more if this interests you.
The story of ‘Bad Faith’ takes place over one single day, in Berlin. An English man, Alan Francis (Russell Shaw) has arrived early in the morning, planning to pay a surprise visit to an old friend, an actress named Julie Retore (Natasha Kepsi). They haven’t met for a long time, but Alan has an offer for her … he is about to make a film and wants Julie to play the female lead.
They meet and discuss old times, and how their lives have changed. However, when Alan offers her the film, Natasha senses their may be more to his offer than would appear on the surface.
The film can be viewed here:
The film contains a number of French references, the work of author Marcel Proust, the films of Jean-Luc Godard and the soundtrack features Francis Poulenc. Julie is seen drinking in a French-style cafe, while we hear actress Julie Delpy singing (in French) in the background. Julie also speaks a few words of French to a young student who has forgotten his book (the French poet Rimbaud). The area where the two protagonists meets features a large French church, and Julie’s surname comes from a character in the French-language film ‘Messidor’ (1979).
The issue of Bad Faith is exemplified by the contradictory characters. Alan appears confident, indeed, over-confident, optimist, yet admits to being terrified (in a moment of relatable honesty). Julie, by contrast, appears natural and content as she deals with the minor annoyances of her daily life. Her modest demeanor serves to highlight the affected manner of Alan’s ‘performance’. As Julie points out, it’s “Not enough for you to be a director, you have to look like one, too,” to which Alan admits is “Just an image.” We, like Julie, question this … is it a just image ?
What is apparent is that Alan and Julie had some kind of relationship in the past, when they worked together in tiny theatres, performing for tiny audiences. I deliberately left the extent of the relationship open … I want the audience to decide (just friends, boyfriend & girlfriend, one-night stand, one in love, the other wanting a platonic relationship, etc).
During the script readings, I allowed the actors to invent their own back story and NOT to tell me … so even I don’t know their history.
As the day comes to an end, Alan has to be honest about what he wants, and the scene becomes somewhat embarrassing to watch. We see that Julie is open and honest, she doesn’t want to pretend or hide behind personas anymore. Tellingly, Alan doesn’t seem to understand … or want to understand.
A final ‘clue’ is when Julie returns to her work (and eagle-eyes viewers may spot a tiny photo of Julie Delpy at the front of the desk). We see a copy of Alan’s script upon which Julie places a copy of Proust, a book whose title has been approximately translated as ‘Remembrance of Things Past’.
So which one is really free ? We hear that Alan has to work under producers and acquiesce to their decisions. Julie is alone, but she seems to have choice over what work she does or doesn’t do. Is she happy ? Does she regret her choice ? Will Alan’s film be a success ? All of these are left unanswered. The crux of the film is the interaction of the two leads. If Alan had been less over-bearing and demonstrated humility, would the outcome have been different ? I will let you decide.
Bjorn Langhans // Christine Muller and Philipp Pressmann
Cameras and Edit: Harri Ansorge
Foley Artist: Max Bauer
A film by Paul Pacifico
Seahorse Productions & IRRAH