In 2015, Napoleon’s troops were forced to suffer one of history’s most historic defeats once again, before getting back into their sweats, hopping in their cars and driving back home. 2015 marked the 200th anniversary of the extraordinary battle, which shaped Europe for a century, and was too unique an opportunity for director Aude Léa to pass up, and she took the chance to film, “Long Live the Emperor,” which is in competition at Unifrance’s 2018 edition of the online MyFrenchFilmFestival.
Paris-based Les Films de Pierre, the company behind one Cannes favorite “BPM (Beats Per Minute),” produced the short. International sales are being handled by L’Agence du Court Métrage.
In the film, Bébé, a newcomer to the reenactment scene, has put together a flawless uniform, armed himself with era-appropriate ordinance, practiced his maneuvers and pitched his tent in anticipation of participating in the Bicentennial. His devastatingly devoted wife Luda has joined him, even if she isn’t quite as wrapped up in the pomp and circumstance.
Bébé struggles to ingratiate himself with the veteran re-enactors, and suffers more than one crisis of confidence in his attempts to join the ranks of Napoleon’s soldiers. Sensing her husband’s struggles, Luda waits for him to head off for the day before getting a costume of her own in an attempt to lift his spirits, which seems to work until Bébé tells Luda about a simple error on his part that has crushed the dream he has worked a year to achieve.
Lea discussed her film with Variety in the lead-up to the short film competition at MyFrenchFilmFestival, which launches today on online services around the world.
What experience did you have with the battle reenactment culture before you made this film?
Absolutely none. A Belgian friend showed me pictures of the re-enactment that took place every year in Waterloo near Brussels. I was immediately fascinated by this incarnation or reincarnation of history by people from all backgrounds. That year marked the bicentennial of the fall of the Napoleonic empire during the terrible battle of Waterloo. It is an incredible backdrop, a sort of giant carnival, except that the theme is unique and precise: War. What is most important in the re-enactments is the place of arms and war. Because beyond folklore, bivouacs and costumes, all the re-enactors have only one objective: the great battle. They are adults who play. It is this scale that has been the driving force behind the project and the character of Soldier Bébé, played by actor and co-writer Jonathan Couzinié. We had the feeling that those people who “play” Napoleon, do pretty much what we do in the making of a fiction. We play to make true.
You likely had more extras involved than all the other shorts in competition combined. What challenges did you face filming at the “battlefield,” with so many people around?
I was very conscious that the risk we were taking was to be engulfed by the reality of the event. That’s why I chose to isolate ourselves in the car park and stay on the margins of the festivities. We mingled with the crowd only when we decided to. We thus protected ourselves from the event. We drew only what we were looking for.
What were your guiding principles when directing “Long Live the Emporer?”
What I knew was that I only had 48 hours to shoot this film, the time of the event. So most of the work had to be efficient. I had great confidence in both of my actors. We had been preparing for a week, so that they would get into the battle with their characters in hand. Then, when the filming really started, we practically shot the film in real time with a very small crew. I did the filming myself, and I had only two technicians by my side. We really felt like we were experiencing this story in real time, which was very convenient to adjust or re-adjust to what was happening. We had the feeling of living the film rather than thinking about it.
Do you see any trends in the shorts you have watched for this, or other festivals where you have participated?
There are many things that speak to me, yes. Especially Romanian short films or those from other Eastern Europe countries. The young filmmakers of these countries work with very little means and practice a cinema based on the strength of the stories, the strength of the actors’ play. They do not have the luxury of getting lost in effects or calibrations. But more generally, yes, I like to watch and discover short films, because there is a freedom and some are very daring.
What is next for you?
I am preparing my first feature film that should be shot this summer, if all goes well.