Lionel Baier, ‘Continental Drift’

Lionel Baier, ‘Continental Drift’

March 2023

In Glasgow and Edinburgh on 20 and 21 March 2023, film director Lionel Baier will present his latest long-feature, premiered at Cannes, to Scottish audiences in collaboration with the French Film Festival UK for le Mois de la Francophonie.

Lionel Baier’s biting yet heartfelt film tackles the migrant crisis and personal failures of empathy with wit and intelligence. Nathalie Adler (Isabelle Carré) is on a mission in Sicily for the European Union, organising the upcoming visit of Presidents Macron and Merkel to a migrant camp. Their presence has great symbolic value, demonstrating that everything is under control. But who is still prepared to believe in this European family on the verge of breakdown? Definitely not Albert (Théodore Pellerin), Nathalie’s son, who is a charity activist and turns up in Sicily out of the blue – years after breaking off all contact with his mother. Their reunion will prove more explosive than the diplomatic mission.

20 March, 6.15pm: screening + Q&A, Alliance Française, 3 Park Circus, Glasgow G3 6AX. Book

21 March, 5.30pm, screening + Q&A, Institut français d’Ecosse, WestParliament Square, Edinburgh EH1 1RF. Book

The events are supported by the Swiss Cultural Fund UK.

An interview with Lionel Baier, courtesy of Les Films du Losange

Why is the film set in 2020?

Lionel Baier: I started working on the screenplay in 2014, following the first great migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. I visited Italy and Greece to see how “reception” operations on European soil actually unfolded. At the time, the character of Nathalie was a British woman working for the European Union. Then came Brexit, the closure of Italian ports and Covid! Between 2016 and 2021, my co-writer Laurent Larivière and I were constantly chasing after events, which are always one step ahead of fiction. If we shot the movie in 2022, we'd have to incorporate Putin's war. We decided to set the action in 2020, on the basis that it is a sufficiently iconic year for everybody to be able to cast their minds back to it. After all, we talk about pre-Covid and post-Covid, just as we used to talk about pre-war and post-war. Everybody remembers what they were doing just before Covid struck.

The pandemic bursts in at the end of the film...

Yes, there is a tragicomic effect that, to our minds, shakes the film up one last time so we dodge the full happy ending. It might have seemed slightly inappropriate given the theme of migration running through the film.

So why combine comedy and drama genres?

That was the gamble with Continental Drift (La Dérive des continents (au sud)). When I visited Moria, in Greece, to see Europe's personnel at work, I was struck by the dramatic absurdity that reigned there. Inflatable boats washed up on the coast of Lesbos, and an employee slashed them so they could not be used for another crossing from Turkey, which is visible to the naked eye across the water. TV channels fought to get exclusive live footage of arriving migrants, picking out the most telegenic. Tourists from all over Europe included a visit to the camp in their stay on the island, to peer at the migrants behind the razor wire. There was something pathetic and shameful about it. Since comedy is the polite form of cinema, I thought it was better to try to be funny than despairing.

How did the subplot between Nathalie, played by Isabelle Carré, and her son Albert, played by Théodore Pellerin, fit in?

As an upstanding European, I abided by the lesson of the Greeks and Rossellini: boil down issues that run through civilizations to personal problems! The Iliad or A Journey in Italy are stories of a family or couples that problematize a state of the world. And then, I remember the girl who, on the evening of Emmanuel Macron's election in 2017, waved the European flag outside the Louvre Pyramid. When a journalist asked her why, she replied, "Europe is the mama!" That made me smile, and I wondered who this "mama" was. In what way had she been there for her children? Or did her children blame her for everything that goes wrong, as is so easy to do with your mother. So we have the Franco-German duo competing for primacy and a Europe that does not match the expectations of its children.

This is the third film in a tetralogy...

Yes, I already shot Comme des voleurs (in the east) in Poland, Les Grandes ondes (in the west) in Portugal, and one day there will be Keek (in the north) in Scotland. If there is one thing I believe in, it is the construction of Europe. To my eyes, this is the only rampart against barbarity and nationalism, which I loathe. Since the European Union is a democratic space, it is our duty to question it, poke fun at it and criticize it. But I believe deeply and sincerely in Europe, and even in its bureaucrats! They are a lesser evil compared to war and the annihilations of the past. My films attempt to capture the passions that cross borders like Trans-Europe Express trains at full speed, connecting Europeans.

Learn more about our Francophonie events over the month of March