Christine Angot, the writer who puts images of her incest: “I didn’t want to take revenge, but to listen to those who remained silent” | Culture

For a long time, Christine Angot (Châteauroux, France, 65 years old) did not want to return to Strasbourg. “It seemed like a hostile city to me. I told my editors not to take me there. When I had no other choice, I went with someone,” she said this Monday as she passed through the Berlinale, which hosted her premiere as a film director. “I never went alone.” The reason is that it was in the capital of Alsace where her father sexually abused her when she was 13 years old. It happened on weekends or during vacations. That man, who abandoned her mother before she was born and then reappeared during her adolescence, continued to abuse her in adult life, when she was already married. He died a long time ago, but his wife and children still live there. For Angot, it was a cursed city, a kingdom of silence. Around him, many knew it, but they didn’t say anything. “People never say anything, because they feel ashamed,” she explains.

Angot has never been silent. In 1999, she published a novel titled Incest that made her a literary star in her country, an author as sold as she was vilified. She received the favor of critics, but she was also accused of fabricating or exaggerating facts, of washing dirty clothes in public, of expressing herself with excessive violence. She always refused to see herself as a victim, a word that disgusts her, to avoid the pity of others, since she considers that other people’s pity is “a control mechanism.” The writer, an unrecognized disciple of Annie Ernaux – although, like her, she refuses to define what she does as “autofiction” – and who has dedicated several books to this major trauma in her life, now returns to the facts, 25 years later . She and she does it, for the first time, using cinema as a weapon.

“My goal was to be able to talk about this before we all died. It was important not only for me, but also for our children, for those who will be born later, for all of us,” says Angot.

The result is titled A family, a documentary where the author returns to Strasbourg, among other French cities, to confront the relatives and friends who hid the events or who watched them in silence. It could be the most disturbing film of this Berlinale, despite not being among the titles competing for the Golden Bear (it has premiered in the parallel Encounters section). Filmin has just acquired it to release it in Spain in the fall of 2024. If she had to resort to images it was, above all, because she felt she needed neutral and incontestable testimony. When she writes, she is reproached for making fiction, for interpreting facts or distorting them to her liking. “Film always seems more real than a novel, even when it isn’t,” she says. Angot uses this new medium just like literature: with harshness, heartbreak and clinical precision, at the service of a stubborn will to put words to the unspeakable. And to answer the million-dollar question: why didn’t anyone do anything?

The film begins with a surprise visit. A door opens. On the other side is her father’s wife, who has known the facts since the nineties. When she sees that they are filming her, she slams the door. Angot puts her foot in the door and forcibly enters a bourgeois salon where she will barely manage to dialogue with someone she has refused to do so for decades. He forces his camera operator (Caroline Champetier, director of photography for Jean-Luc Godard or Leos Carax) and her assistant to access that address. “I need you,” he tells them. The reproaches abound. “Aren’t you going to apologize to me?” Angot begins. “I only had your version,” his stepmother responds. Other explanations will follow. “Your father already had Alzheimer’s when he found out.” “Anyway, it was too late.” “I didn’t want to know, it was a protection against your aggressiveness.” “How could you come to my house when you were having a sexual relationship with him?” Angot replies that she was not in a relationship, but that she was being raped. “Let’s talk, but without violence,” that false mother had demanded at the beginning. “It was good to talk, it was necessary. “May you just have a good day,” she tells him as she says goodbye to her, with polite coldness. Later, she will report her for trespassing.

Christine Angot, at a literary meeting in Krakow (Poland), in October 2023.NurPhoto (Getty Images)

In his successive meetings with other members of his family, this lack of communication will give way to a possible understanding and a utopian placidity. He goes to see her mother, unable to talk about what happened, as she prefers to focus on the interference that this incest caused in her relationship with her daughter; She narrates them in beautiful writings read on camera that allow us to sense where the future writer’s literary talent comes from. He visits her ex-husband, who once overheard Angot’s father abusing her and stayed locked in her room, a victim of her own childhood traumas, without intervening in the scene.

Then he gives the floor to his current partner, the Antillean musician Charly Clovis, who defines himself as a “descendant of slaves.” “There are people who get together to unite heritages and others who do it because they have things in common that define them,” the author responds about their union. In the end, she meets her daughter, the first to have a kind word when she learned what she had suffered. The writer’s interviews are alternated with photographs and home videos from the early nineties. We will discover that Angot was the only one in her class with a Jewish surname: Schwartz, which was later changed to… her father’s. In an image of adolescence, the author smiles. She is unrecognizable.

The context has changed since he started writing about that incest. Back at the turn of the millennium, she was laughed at on television sets until she was forced to get up and leave. Now she is heard, the result of a new social sensitivity, and she also recognizes it: Journey to the Eastthe book he introduces to Strasbourg at the beginning of the documentary, won the prestigious Medici Prize in 2021. It is tempting to see the film as a revenge movieone of those thrillers where a humiliated and wounded character goes to look for his executioners seeking revenge. Angot is outraged by this interpretation. “I’m not looking for revenge, but for the truth,” she responds. “I wanted the words to emerge. I wanted to hear what those who were silent had to say. That has nothing to do with revenge. My goal was to be able to talk about this before we all died. It was important not only for me, but also for our children, for those who will be born later. And for all of us. Deep down, society is also a family.”

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