Denis Dercourt was trained as a musician and still is today. After acquiring his degrees in Political Science and Philosophy, he became a viola and chamber music teacher at the Strasbourg Conservatory. Whilst still a student at the Paris Conservatory, he performed in music ensembles and as a soloist in places like the Salle Pleyel and Carnegie Hall.
He also free-lanced for French and foreign pop-music groups. He started shooting several short works on video and super-8 when he was a teenager, before making a medium-length film, Le Déménagement, in 1996, the same year he founded a production outfit (“les films à un dollar”) with his brother Tom, who produces all his films. His third feature film, The Page Turner, granted him a large international success.
When did you disco these fans of Napoleonic historical reconstructions, who provided the inspiration for Tomorrow at Dawn?
A long time ago, when I watched a documentary and found it rather cinematic, I had also read that in Napoleon’s army, musicians were known as “Far from the bullets” because they were kept away from the front line. Putting these two pieces of information together, I thought to myself here we have a subject for a film. But I started and re-started the project over and over again, it is a challenge to make a film about people who are putting on an act, to make people iconic when they are playing at being iconic.
How much historical research did you do?
As a musician, I’m very familiar with the problems of re-enactment and faithfulness, and I’m also very influenced by contemporary art, which is concerned with these concepts. By nature, I like to be well-informed.I aim for meticulousness, precision and authenticity and the film is as accurate historically as can be. If something wasn’t right, I always had someone on the set telling me: ”we hold that on the right side, not on the left”. 80% of the “soldiers” in the film are people who don their costumes and play act these scenes every weekend.
You live in Strasbourg and still work as a music teacher. Are you the “far from the bullets” of French cinema?
I think it’s more fulfilling to have diversity in life. I’m keen to continue being a musician, visioning lots of contemporary art, and not making films just for the sake of it, because there are already many excellent ones. I believe it is worth trying to push the boundaries a little further every time.
CINE EUROPA, June 23, 2009