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Zombi Child 2019

Zombi Child

Zombi Child

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Écoutez monde blanc. Les salves de nos morts. Écoutez ma voix de zombi. En l'honneur de nos morts. Écoutez monde blanc. Mon typhon de bêtes fauves. Mon sang déchirant ma tristesse. Sur tous les chemins du monde. Écoutez monde blanc!

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About the Zombi Child 💬

Inspired from the ''real story'' of Clairvius Narcisse, a Haitian slave, who returned from the dead and was sent to the fields to work again.

Haiti, 1962. A man is brought back from the dead only to be sent to the living hell of the sugarcane fields. In Paris, 55 years later, at the prestigious Légion d'honneur boarding school, a Haitian girl confesses an old family secret to a group of new friends - never imagining that this strange tale will convince a heartbroken classmate to do the unthinkable.

Directed by Bertrand Bonello, following Saint Laurent and Nocturama, ZOMBI CHILD reverts to the principles of the French New Wave, and tackles the subjects of family secrets, the supernatural, culture, collective imagination and history.


Q: How long ago did you get the idea to shoot a film, albeit partly, in Haiti?

Bertrand Bonello: The idea had been with me for a while. A number of years ago, in a notebook, I'd already written down these two words: ''Zombi, Haiti.''

Q: This spelling - zombi without an ''e'' - is connected to the wish to return to the origins of this famous figure.

Bertrand Bonello: I liked the fact that we were going back to the deepest origins of a globally known phenomenon; and on a personal level it was important to my original connection with movies, since as a viewer, I came to cinema through this genre. Zombie is the American spelling. Zombi is the original zombi, which is a figure that is profoundly embedded in Haiti's history and culture. It is the result of an ill-intended use of voodoo, something that people never speak about, and whose existence some deny entirely.

However, everybody there knows how a zombi walks and talks. During casting sessions, the men would all portray zombis the same way.

The film is thoroughly and precisely documented: the powder used to transform a man into a zombi, the state of slavery that keeps him on the plantations; the salt, the meat or the peanuts which, if he eats some, pulls him out of his zombi trance and makes him go home, or back to his grave. An important book, William Seabrook's The Magic Island, about voodoo mysteries, was published in France in 1928. Five years later, White Zombie featuring Bela Lugosi was released. The spelling changed as well as the political meaning attached to the zombi, including the connection with slavery: it disappeared, even though it reappears, altered, in George Roméro's cinema. The American zombie kept the Haitian zombi's walk, demeanor, slowness, but not its function. It's a dead person, which isn't the case for the Haitian zombi, which is in a suspended state somewhere between life and death. This is an aspect that I find fascinating, this connection between life and death that is still made over there, while we have discontinued this idea since the Ancient Greeks. In voodoo, there is no rift between life and death. It's not just a belief, it's a truth. The 2010 earthquake, with its approximately 300,000 dead, was a terrible reminder of that. The living and the dead had to live side by side for months on end.

Q: What were your inspirations? Did you immerse yourself again in the zombi(e) films we just mentioned?

Bertrand Bonello: Not really, but Roméro's films were very much with me. Nevertheless, I did rewatch Jacques Tourneur's superb I Walked with a Zombie, whose title is the film's opening dialogue. I found inspiration in photography books, in novels, or anthropological publications, starting with one by a Swiss author, Alfred Métraux, Voodoo in Haiti, written in the 1950s, in which he gives a detailed description of the nasal voice, the demeanor and walk, the powder causing skin depigmentation around the eyes... and then, when looking for a story evoking the zombi in a particular manner to be used specifically for Melissa's induction into the literary sorority, I discovered a poem by René Depestre, Cap'tain Zombi. This is the poem that is quoted as the film's epigraph. Depestre also wrote a beautiful book, Hadriana in All My Dreams, the story of a white zombi woman, which I discovered thanks to a recommendation by our Haitian producer, Guetty Felin.

Q: Who is Clairvius Narcisse, the film's zombi and Melissa's grandfather?

Bertrand Bonello: Not everyone agrees about his existence as a zombi. He apparently ''died,'' as depicted in the film, in 1962. Then, he ''came back'' to the world of the living. He is one of the rare documented cases. When I heard his story, about fifteen years ago, I found it very beautiful.

Q: The film is particularly precise with regard to the way adolescents speak...

Bertrand Bonello: My daughter, Anna, whom we briefly see in a boarding school scene, helped me. She is the same age as the characters. Anna corrected some lines of dialogue that she found outdated; she gave me her opinion concerning casting choices. It's thanks to her - and by checking her Deezer feed - that I was able to discover the rapper Damso, whose music plays a very important part in the film.

Q: Your films are often daring in terms of structure. It's customary to find them arranged in two parts, or two halves, often corresponding to a connection between an interior and an exterior: Nocturama is a perfect example, as was Tiresia. It's once again the case, here, although conceived differently since ZOMBI CHILD goes back and forth frequently, slowly establishing the connection between the France of today and Haiti of yesterday, and through them the connections between an enclosed space - the high school - and an open space - the plantations.

Bertrand Bonello: That's right. The starting point is rather simple. There's the image of the zombi, the desire for a Haitian element. Then the French element, an adolescent's first love and heartbreak, came from looking for the right perspective to tell this story. The enormous contrast between these two elements creates a friction from which other things arise.

I just brought up the possibility that the Haitian part of the story might be Melissa's imagination. It's just one example among others. This is where the film, in a certain way, ceases to be premeditated. Indeed, numerous correlations only appeared to me at the editing stage. It's something extremely stimulating. The fact, for instance, that the image quivers during two scenes brings to mind the earthquake, but as I watched the film I discovered that echoes of the latter also appeared in places I hadn't anticipated. And I can see, when I hear the audience's first impressions, that they too discover many other correspondences as well. I am delighted with this wealth of perspectives and interpretations.

I was aware that the idea of parallel editing between France and Haiti could potentially not work out. There was the risk that it would remain too theoretical. All the more so because the finished film is close to its screenplay version. I also knew - and it happens frequently - that there was the possibility that one part of the narrative would interest the audience more. All this was, therefore, a bit of a gamble, a structural gamble. In the end, I believe it works, beyond any of my expectations. Little by little, doors open, aesthetically and politically. My goal when writing is also that something will at some point escape me, reaching beyond.

Earlier, I spoke about a modest film. It's true: there is in ZOMBI CHILD a unity in the staging, everything being addressed on the same level, simply and precisely, without excessively seeking to be outlandish or ''out there.'' First, things are established. Then they are drawn more closely together. And it's this connection that opened up perspectives and dimensions that are, for their part, less modest. When you bring two things together, you end up producing a third, which you aren't aware of in advance. This is an old principle, inherited from Robert Bresson, which I didn't just apply at certain moments, but to an entire film.

Interview by Emmanuel Burdeau.

Zombi Child Movie Details 🎥

Directed by

Bertrand Bonello

Writing Credits

Bertrand Bonello


Louise Labeque

Wislanda Louimat

Adilé David

Ninon François

Mathilde Riu

Katiana Milfort

Mackenson Bijou

Ginite Popote

Patrick Boucheron

Néhémy Pierre-Dahomey

Sayyid El Alami

Saadia Bentaïeb

Music by

Bertrand Bonello

Cinematography by

Yves Cape

Genres: Drama, Fantasy, Mystery

Country: France

Zombi Child Official Trailer

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