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Cannes Film Festival: Gaspard Ulliel’s Final Film - PLUS QUE JAMAIS by Emily Atef


Plus Que Jamais

All eyes were on Emily Atef’s film that marked the closure of a glorious career by French actor Gaspard Ulliel after his sudden passing in 2022. Atef looked back at Plus Que Jamais and the memories of working with Gaspard, as she celebrated his life, and the selection of her film in the Un Certain Regard category in Cannes.

AM: The main character of your film Hélène is on a quest to end her life, why did you decide to tackle such a dark topic?
Coming from Iran, we don’t talk about death, we can’t even say the word. I live in an apartment in Berlin that overlooks a cemetery and it frightens my family. I was thinking to myself, the only thing we as humans know from the very beginning is that we shall leave this earth. We don’t know if we’ll fall in love, if we’ll be healthy or find a job that we like, but we do know that we will pass away and we never talk about it. We either feel like it will not happen to us, or it just scares us so much to even think about it. Hélène was in pain, yet the optimism was in her emancipation as she needed to choose the way she wanted to leave the world, regardless if it would hurt the people around her.

AM: How did you put the strong element of Norway’s nature in your film?
I had the idea of a girl who has a deadly sickness and decides to travel to Norway to let go. Just like a wolf who leaves the pack to find his place, to die in dignity and peace, away from the others. I knew that nature was important as I went to Norway in my early 20s and did a motorcycle trip. The country is breathtaking, it has mountains, waters, deserts, and the raw nature keeps on going regardless of whether we live or not. It’s humbling to know that there is something bigger than us and that will keep existing after us.

AM: Describe some of the moments you shared with Gaspard Ulliel on set of his final film
About a year ago we were still shooting and he would always be worrying about COVID and joking around that he is positive to scary me. Norway was very tough on us, only a strict minimum of the team was allowed to come in. We had to do hardcore quarantine yet we did incredible hiking and outdoor activities. So, this is my last memory of him, all these unforgettable moments of joy. His passing was a shock for me and the sadness comes back every time I watch my film.

Synopsis: Hélène, a 33-year-old woman from Bordeaux lives happily as a couple. Her life turns upside down the day she learns she has a rare lung disease. Thanks to a blog, she discovers Norway, and decides to follow her instinct. Despite all the love she has for Mathieu her life partner, she will cross all Europe to Norway in search of a new path.

By Victor N.