Cannes 2023

Cannes 2023: "Simple as Sylvain", Monia Chokry's philosophy of love


Love each other better. I think that's also emancipation. The daughter of a Tunisian painter and a Quebec journalist, Monia Chokry now embodies the feminist humour of her country's cinema. In "Simple comme Sylvain" ("The Nature of Love"), in the official selection of the Cannes Film Festival, the former actress in Xavier Dolan's films has fun and makes us laugh with her philosophical and cinematographic questions about the nature of love in our time. Maintenance.

Monia Chokry, director of "Simple comme Sylvian", in the official selection of the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. © Siegfried Forster / RFI

Text by: Siegfried Forster Follow


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RFI: Simple as Sylvain is a love story. Is love for you the most important challenge in our time of crises, disasters and wars?

Monia Chokry: At the world premiere of my film here in Cannes, I was talking about power and the need for benevolence in power. Our leaders should focus on creating peace in people and on love, because love is foundational. I feel like people spend more time hating themselves and less about being in the real issues. Obviously, the main issue for me and for many people is to save the planet and the environment, but it also involves the love we have for others and territories. The foundation of humanity is to have a sense of love. After that, what is it?

The film also tells the story of Sophie, 41, a woman who has everything, herself a philosopher, she has been married to a philosopher for ten years, she has a beautiful house, friends, but, suddenly, she has a love at first sight and the question of love arises. There are answers through philosophers like Plato, Schopenhauer or Spinoza. Who is Monia Chokry's love philosopher?

Sophie teaches philosophy. This allows us to have a common thread for the telling of the story. We go through all kinds of philosophers and amorous thoughts, written mainly by men. I think I have all these definitions in my life and I believed all these definitions at one time or another. For me, personally, I added, in the last race, Bell Hooks [born Gloria Jean Watkins, American intellectual and activist, theorist of black feminism, Editor's note] who is not defined as a philosopher, but who is for me a philosopher. She says "to love" is an active verb. However, we have forgotten that it is an active verb. We often talk like we were suffering love or as something that falls on us. Bell Hooks said you can choose to love. I find this idea important to be active in our feeling of love. It also means that we can respect ourselves enough not to allow certain behaviors or people to behave in a toxic way with us, precisely in the name of this great feeling impossible to define who is love or who falls on us. I think it's a false definition to say that love is something you can't control.

"Simple as Sylvian", a film by Monia Chokry. © Cannes Film Festival 2023

After learning all this from these philosophers, but what is your own philosophy of love today?

I think you have to love each other enough. We always love to the measure as we love ourselves. If we don't love each other very much, we're going to love each other badly. And when I say "love yourself very much", it doesn't mean to worship yourself or to think you're great, it just means knowing your value so that I can be able to be appeased and say to yourself: I'm worth something, so I can give to others too.

Sylvain is a carpenter, handsome, bearded, muscular, sexy, he drives a very powerful pick-up, likes hunting and fishing, but, compared to Sophie, he is rather simple-minded and above all, he likes luscious blondes and he loves to "take" women as he sees fit. Despite such a character, why can't your film be considered a macho film?

Perhaps, because I am naturally a feminist, because I come from a territory in the world that is one of the most egalitarian in terms of gender relations. Jane Campion [New Zealand director and Palme d'Or winner in 1993] said in a documentary that she has the chance to write vast female characters, because she comes from a territory where equality between men and women is very strong. This allows her to have this freedom of speech on the female characters. I think that's it. In fact, Sylvain also resembles the men I know in Quebec, because, even if he is a builder and a wood guy, men in Quebec, they also have a propensity for sensitivity. I found it interesting to show this image of the man too. We can have this balance between a kind of very clichéd virility and, at the same time, have great tenderness.

People talk a lot in your film, at the same time, can we say that in your way of filming, we progress much more with the bodies than with the word or the head?

In this film, I still tried to make a balance between progression in the body and in speech. I come from acting, I'm an actress at the base, and I think that dialogues allow me to advance the narrative, like in the theater. The verb is really important to me. The verb is an action and not just a word that is launched.

With the character of Sophie arises the question of the emancipated woman. Can we say, today, an emancipated woman assumes that she does not know what she wants, but she needs men to know what she does not want?

[Laughs] Maybe. Anyway, we need each other. We're not going to fight. We must open a dialogue to understand who we are and to be able to love ourselves better. I think that's also emancipation, to have the quality of being able to dialogue, to understand the needs of both genders, to be able to live in harmony.

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