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Martyrs 2008



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About Martyrs 💬

martyr: nom, adjectif
du grec ''marturos'':

France. A night at the beginning of the 1970s. Lucie Jurin, a little girl missing for over a year, is discovered wandering by the side of a country road. Near catatonic, she can say nothing about what has happened to her. The cops quickly find the place in which she's been incarcerated - a disused slaughterhouse. Every indication is that she never once left the empty, freezing room in which she was imprisoned. Filthy and starving, the child's body nonetheless bears no traces of sexual abuse - this was not a pedophile abduction, but something far stranger. What happened in that icy room? And how did Lucie escape?

Lucie is hospitalized - slowly she learns how to live again, an enfant sauvage gradually returning to the real world. In the hospital, she meets Anna Assaoui, another little girl, and a victim of terrible abuse at the hands of her family. In no time, they are inseparable. Anna takes charge of Lucie, like a mother. As for her kidnappers, the police are at a dead end. Lucie's ordeal remains a terrible mystery.

One night, as Anna sleeps, Lucie hears an awful, rasping breathing. A vision appears: a body, naked, skeletal, tortured. Barely human. The apparition seizes her...

15 years later. A house, isolated in the middle of a forest. A family: Mum, Dad, two kids. A happy home. As they eat breakfast, there's a knock at the door. The father opens it to find a young woman, hollow-eyed and wraithlike and mad. In her hands, a rifle. ''Remember the little girl I once was?''. She shoots him where he stands, enters the house, and locks the door.

Minutes later, the family lie bloody. All dead. Lucie calls Anna, who tells her not to move, she'll be right there. In shock, Lucie hangs up. And then she hears it. That terrible, terribly familiar breathing...


Q: Where did you get the idea to make MARTYRS? And how did the story itself come about?

Pascal Laugier: Frankly, it's a small miracle that MARTYRS was able to be made. My founding image, was this 'figure of vengeance', the sudden intrusion of this armed girl who arrives to shatter the life of an ordinary family. Starting from this simple idea, I asked myself some basic questions: ''Why would she do that?''; ''What happened?''; ''Is she mistaken?'', and to an extent, the story wrote itself. In fact, while writing it, I hardly knew more than the viewer who watches the film and gradually understands the nature of the mystery. It was a very intuitive process.

Q: Why did you make such a violent film? Is it your goal to shock? To exorcise the fear of death and pain?

Pascal Laugier: First, it seemed the most honest way of telling this story. MARTYRS speaks about people who hurt each other. Those who have suffered get revenge and make others suffer. The presumed torturers become victims and conversely, we no longer know where evil begins, who is the 'martyr' of the other... I liked the idea of making a troubling film, where the audience loses its moral compass and no longer truly knows whom to support, whom to identify with. I'm not interested in shocking people per se, but a physical, organic sensation of inflicted pain was vital: without it, we would not have understood the seriousness of this violence, it would have become a gimmick and rendered the film somewhat dubious... I didn't want to distance myself from the characters. I wanted each blow to be really painful, not as some moral discourse about the representation of violence, but because it's the very subject of the film. Is there something at the end, the very end of violence? Does it make sense that we spend our time suffering and making others suffer? What should we do about this universal distress that seems transformed by a principle of perpetual movement, and appears to engender itself? Will this end? In fact, I believe it's the kind of question that all my favorite horror films ask: how and for what reason is the human condition fundamentally so atrocious? As a genre, horror takes death as a starting point and not as an endpoint, unlike tragedy, for example. To be is to deteriorate; finiteness is there from the beginning, however, one must live with it. Perhaps these are clichés, but they continue to haunt me, move me and compel me to write. And besides, the film's blackness comes from my own mood at the time I made it. The circumstances of my life made me feel very alone. I had the intuition, a vague feeling which made me suffer quite a lot, that our era was one of the most brutal that we've ever experienced. But it's a very particular brutality because at the same time it's silent, refined and contained in society; it's hidden beneath our so-called 'Civilization', but it's certainly there, omnipresent. In any case, I'm very aware of it.

The hidden violence, nearly invisible in our western urban societies, truly seems unbearable. The competition is really tough, losers are legion and individual anxiety is at its peak... How long can this last? What will we do with the losers? It seems to me that there are film-makers who should take on these issues. It's vital to have films that reflect this contemporary horror, make it their subject, flirt with the temptation of emptiness, take the responsibility of being the bearers of bad news... a project which seems to me both noble and necessary. If all films, in the name of economic pragmatism, only pursue the current mood, by reflecting back to society an easy and conventional image of itself, it seems that the idea of cinema itself is falling apart... An idea of cinema which is very dear to me. A creative life can't be spent simply stroking the public. Nothing more than that and you might as well shoot yourself! I try to do it, at my level, in the framework of a suspense film, because that's my thing, because it opens up the project, including to the rest of the world, but I could just as easily have made a purely experimental film, shot on DV, without a script. It would have been as dark, as sad, as deadly...

Q: You venture very far into the blackness...

Pascal Laugier: It's not my fault if the era isn't extraordinary! And besides, the genre allows it. I can be more baroque, more expressive than, let's say, in the framework of social realism, for example. For me, it's good when a scary movie, a horror or fantasy movie, call it what you like, offends. As I'm so protected by the codes and archetypes I discussed earlier, it allows me to express some very personal things in a subterranean fashion.

Q: Did making a film as difficult as MARTYRS affect you in a particular way?

Pascal Laugier: Not really, because the joy of making it overpowers everything else. It's my second film, I still marvel at how lucky I am to work in this business. It's true that the film forced us to live through some uncomfortable moments. My energy was pretty dark, I could be difficult and tyrannical. It's not easy to ask an actress to cry for real all day long, or to oblige her to hurt herself. That takes a certain self-abnegation, because in life, I have quite a few inhibitions...

Q: Is it easier or more difficult to direct a second film?

Pascal Laugier: It's harder to make the first one, without a doubt. I never subscribed to this 'curse of the second film' theory. It seems to me to be a reflection of the privileged who have forgotten the young anxious guy who arrives in Paris wanting to make a film, while knowing absolutely nobody. Before being given the exceptional chance to direct your first feature film, you are worried and permanently frustrated; you know that statistically there's a very small chance that you'll actually do it. You know there are many more talented people than you who want to do the same thing and you have this small voice at the back of your mind, the voice of reason, which continues to worry at you about the fact that your choice is very uncertain and that you shouldn't dream too big. After the first film, you're already in the business, as far as others see it anyway. Your address book is full, your relationships and network are set up, it's a totally different picture.

Q: How did you approach the filming of MARTYRS?

Pascal Laugier: In a completely different way than my previous film. I refused all storyboards, all excessive preparation which would have permanently blocked my conception of the film. I had a very precise general impression of the film, I knew its mood, its rhythm, but, scene by scene, it was completely open. I wanted to let reality intervene, to force me to make last-minute choices, to find my way according to what was possible and impossible to do. Generally, that's the case on all films, but I pushed this principle even more. I wanted to make a visceral film, which unfolds its story as if live, in the moment, a film that doesn't ''let itself be seen''. I wanted to free myself from the obsession with form, with beautiful images. For this reason, we shot a lot with a handheld camera, improvising as often as possible, employing simple lighting that allowed the actors to use their intuition. Our job was to follow them, to stick to them, to anticipate. Chaos, approximation and problems were rarely far away... I scared myself during the filming, because I'm usually a control freak. But I learned so much.

Q: Many directors of French fantasy films can't help themselves from conforming to standard references (consciously or not). What do you think?

Pascal Laugier: When my first film was released, this criticism was often made. Genre fans love to tease directors - especially if they are French and film buffs like them - about influences, quotations, indeed plagiarism. However, so-called 'arthouse' filmmakers are never questioned about their own inspirations which are also evident. I never understood why. Doubtless, because the fantasy genre has its codes and formulas, there's a sort of tacit Bible of the genre and its apostles, the fans, feel charged with a mission... a Guardians of the Temple reflex! I say that affectionately, as a lover of the films of others, I'm a bit like that too. It's amusing and necessary to integrate that when making a film: start with the tremendously hackneyed codes and try to turn them around, in order to take an increasingly image-savvy public by surprise, a public both well-fed and expert. Thus, MARTYRS constantly plays with the archetypes of the genre, so that each time the viewer believes he's understood the film's style, he's suddenly taken in an unexpected direction. It must be done without dishonesty, without being too clever, without distance, and without post-modernism, because I truly detest that. Is it a revenge film? Not exactly. A monster film? Perhaps. Is it really a fantasy film? Or a thriller? Etc... It's a game with the public; the resulting suspense, it seems to me, allows the audience to better accept the violence, just because it wants to know. It's truly a question of a delicate balance.

Q: Many actresses turned the film down. Why?

Pascal Laugier: Because it's violent, because it's assimilated into a questionable genre, because it's not a 'rewarding' project... It's difficult to fight prejudices. I often felt as if I was suggesting a porn movie. Frankly, the world of cinema is extremely conservative, very conformist. Cautious careerism is the general rule, as in any business, it seems completely normal, but in art, it's a terrible thing!

Q: Why did you finally choose Mylène and Morjana?

Pascal Laugier: Mylène was an almost immediate choice. She has a real taste for on-the-edge projects, and the energy of a young woman who wants to shake the rafters, to provoke. I knew that she would agree to enter a borderline universe. Plus, her screen presence is extraordinary, and her charisma. When she enters a room, the temperature changes, people behave differently. It would be impossible to be a film director and not feel that. Moreover, her natural energy is pretty dark. She's dangerous and dark, full of passionate contradictions. On set, when she became the character and lost her temper for a scene, she really scared me. I was thrilled, and at the same time, I dreaded trouble erupting. The tension was palpable, you could hear a pin drop. The technicians were scared of her and at the same time, they were worried about her. We really had a sensation of imminent catastrophe. It was an amazing experience, and I'll never forget it.

With Morjana, it didn't happen straight away. After the last-minute withdrawal of another actress, I had to begin casting again. I saw many actresses, but I couldn't find the right one. And then a friend advised me to see the film MAROCK in which Morjana had the leading role. I did, and found her intriguing, with a unique strangeness, very different from 'Parisian' actresses. I felt that she acted from instinct, that she had something special. I decided to meet her and in five minutes I knew that she was the one. I didn't make her do a screen test. I just hoped that she wouldn't flee after reading the script! Her reaction was just the opposite. She wanted to go, she was ready, she absolutely didn't give a damn about her image and at the same time she didn't seem crazy. She truly was an ally for me. In life, I find her overwhelming, irreducible. She's 'exotic', in the true sense of the word, which is to say different, other. And she's luminous, which was also essential for me, because her character is obviously that of a saint.

Q: The film's rhythm is very quick, the twists and turns are non-stop...

Pascal Laugier: Suspense is the film's starting point. MARTYRS is a totally narrative film. Until the end, we wonder and question ourselves. I hope that the audience will literally take an hour and a half to understand what the twists are about...

Q: In your view, what would be the ideal reactions from the public concerning MARTYRS?

Pascal Laugier: I'd like them to be moved. I'm not crazy, I know that some won't get past the level of violence, that they'll refuse to go where the film tries to take them. That's how it is, I can't do anything about that, that's part of the deal. I understand very well that some people could find it unbearable. Obviously, I'm expecting some extreme reactions, sometimes as violent regarding me as the film is regarding the public. Perhaps because it's a sick film. An illness reaching its terminal stage... Perhaps some of the audience will be angry with me... I find that prospect very interesting.

Martyrs Movie Details 🎥

Directed by

Pascal Laugier

Writing Credits

Pascal Laugier


Morjana Alaoui

Mylène Jampanoï

Erika Scott

Jessie Pham

Catherine Bégin

Jean-Marie Moncelet

Mike Chute

Anie Pascale

Gaëlle Cohen

Louis Thevenon

Robert Toupin

Patricia Tulasne

Juliette Gosselin

Xavier Dolan

Isabelle Chasse

Music by

Alex Cortés

Willie Cortés

Cinematography by

Bruno Philip

Nathalie Moliavko-Visotzky

Stéphane Martin

Genres: Horror, Thriller

Countries: France, Canada

Remade as: Martyrs (2015)

Martyrs Official Trailer

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