RoarÂ writer George Jackson talks to Fred Baillif, a Swiss social worker turned film director, about his new feature film, “La Mif”, a challenging improvisational drama about young women living in care and the adults who support them. In this part, we learn about the different issues explored in the film, as well as obstacles faced during its making.Â
R: In terms of certain issues explored in the film, what do you think young people who see it, be it students or otherwise, can gain in terms of issues around mental health and relating to some of the characters?
FB: That’s a tough question, really. I think that there is something that, not just from watching the movie, but also from knowing what’s behind the movie, the experience of the girls, you know, the idea is to, to work with people who have been told by the system, but that they are different from others because once you put someone in a home, the message is clear. You are different. We are going to put you somewhere with other different people. So how do we deal with that as a society? And I think that’s a big issue. And I can’t give any advice, but maybe that’s something that can be understood, knowing that I’ve worked with girls coming from the home and who are now inspired by this experience. I’m not going to save them, or change them. But I think what I am doing is planting seeds and, you know, maybe something will grow out of it. That’s what social workers should do.Â
R: It makes a lot of sense. There are many people who’ve been in care and struggled in similar ways to how the girls have struggled, but they’ve managed to go through life and do positive things. The film emphasises that we’re human beings, no matter our stage in life, and young people have value. In the film, Claudiaâ€™s character claims that being young and â€œvulnerable doesnâ€™t mean dumbâ€. In relation to that, would you agree that age doesnâ€™t always mean wisdom?
FB: Yes, and I think the story of Lora also says that. I mean, she’s the grown one, but she’s the one who really, really messed up her life. So she can be an example for the girls by being honest, and by being herself with them. This is why she’s telling them her story in the end, because if we want to do something together then we have to be on the same level and this controlling thing of the institutions and of the social workers on the kids is wrong. We have to be on the same level if we want to help.
R: So far the critical response for the film has been fantastic, picking up awards at major festivals across Europe, including the Berlinale. Whilst youâ€™ve been on the festival circuit, have you sensed any sort of debate arising?Â
FB: Itâ€™s coming. Because this fragile thing would come. I’m sure because I’ve had this. I had to change places to find another place three weeks before shooting the film because the institution I was working with closed the doors on me because Iâ€™d told them it was about sexuality and all that. But then a new manager came to this place and she found out about this project and told me I was not allowed to go there anymore. But this inspired me even more. And that’s because they believed that the girls I was working with were fragile and they wanted to protect them. So two of the girls who were supposed to be in the film were not allowed to be because they were too young. And they wanted to protect them. And I was not allowed to speak to them. I was not allowed to come to the place. So yes, there’s going to be a lot of debate about how do you take care of these fragile people when you put them in a movie and expose their lives, but I’m clear, I mean, it’s fiction. Their personalities are real, but the stories are fiction. So I have no problem with it. And we had a lot of discussions. We took care of them. There were social workers on the set, after the very sensitive moments we talked and we really took the time to take care of that and that’s all we could do. What else can we do? Protect them? Put them in a prison? See, it’s going to be really, really interesting, but you know, even if some people will be critical, I don’t care. I know what I’m doing.Â
R: It’s interesting as well because youâ€™re highlighting how people who are professionals in this sector more often than not experience a conflict in their work. On the one hand you care about these people, you’re working with them as we see in the film and you get very close to them and form a relationship. But then at the same time, going back to the â€œmad systemâ€ there are these boundaries and procedures.
FB: Itâ€™s a huge problem. Huge problem. Yeah.
R: So do you see yourself doing another project related to this issue in future? Or is there another issue in this area you want to explore next?Â
FB: Thank you, because you’re helping me. Because I’m working on a project and right now Iâ€™m working with social workers who help migrants. They help the migrants to integrate and deal with their papers and all those issues. It would be like “I, Daniel Blake”, you know, it’s impossible. There’s so much administration, so much bureaucracy that you canâ€™t do anything. So this is what I want to talk about, but is it the same issue? There is the issue of professional distance. Actually, the people I work with, they really work in these associations helping migrants. And I was writing this morning, so really youâ€™re helping me because I’m thinking of this; is it the same issue? Professional distance? I was asking myself this morning and I have to be careful. I can’t do the same film, so I’m thinking hard about it, but they have the same problem. The girls I work with had burnout and they had to stop working because of the distance. They can’t help the people, because it becomes too stressful, even though they want to help them. But sometimes you just can’t, but that’s for other reasons, itâ€™s to protect our country.Â
R: Mr Baillif, thank you for your time.Â
FB: Thank you very much.
“La Mif”Â will be in cinemas across the UK from 25th February.
You can read the first part of the article here.