Bertrand Bonello, filmmaker: “I wanted to put fear and love together”

Bertrand Bonello, filmmaker: “I wanted to put fear and love together”


From writing to production, La Bête , Bertrand Bonello’s tenth feature film, was a long journey. Inventor of forms, director, screenwriter and composer, author of L’Apollonide, souvenirs de la maison brothel (2011) and Nocturama (2016), among others, recounts the making of his science fiction film, which is set in 2044, while delving into the past lives of a young woman (Léa Seydoux).

“The Beast” is adapted from a short story by Henry James. What attracted you to this book on romantic encounters?

It was the desire to approach melodrama that brought me back to this book, which I had already read two or three times. What is extraordinary in this news is that the meeting between the man and the woman has already taken place. I couldn’t find a better argument about failure in love, about the fear of loving. I wanted to put together these two words: fear and love, two very strong feelings that go so well together. When we love, there is the fear of losing.

The film takes place on three specific dates, 1910, 2014 and 2044. Why?

In 1910, we entered the 20th century with lots of hope and light, but four years later, it would be darkness [with the outbreak of the First World War] . In 1910, Gabrielle, played by Léa Seydoux, played a pianist at the forefront of contemporary music: she studied Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951), who introduced atonality. Then, 2014 is the pre-#metoo era, and the year when the young American Elliot Rodger, member of a community of misogynistic singles [played by George MacKay] , organized his killing spree while posting videos. 2044 plunges us into a near future, dominated by machines.

I created this concept for myself: humans have not managed to manage the planet, whether in terms of wars, ecology, inequalities… Machines, by reasoning like machines, have succeeded, because there are no more affects. They have taken power and there are no more disasters, but the price to pay is to obey. It is a “positive” dictatorship, in quotes, because the world that I show is terribly sad and lonely.

In Henry James’ short story, as well as in your film, there is the idea of a coming catastrophe, giving the feeling that it is too late to act…

There is a fear “positive” which puts us in tune with the world and there is also a negative fear, which paralyzes. This is what they are trying to inflict on us today, with these leaders who use disasters to appear as saviors. It’s the brew of terror. The historian Patrick Boucheron explains it very well in his book Le Temps qui reste (Threshold, 2023).

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