the gentlewoman

The Reader

Rachel Lang has written and directed just three films thus far, but her off-kilter, naturalistic style is commanding attention and praise. Baden, Baden, her first feature, was the toast of this year's Berlin Film Festival and her debut short, For You I Will Fight, was awarded the Silver Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival in 2010. When she’s not taking the independent cinema world by storm, the 32-year-old from Strasbourg is also an officer in the French army.

Rachel Lang

Richard: I'm fascinated to hear about your career in the military.

Rachel: Well, I’m an officer in the army reserves, responsible for a platoon of 30 and train soldiers in how to use rifles and so on. But as it’s the reserves, they have a civilian life too, though not a lot of them have other jobs. For me, there’s a lot of pastoral care involved. For example, two days ago I had a problem with a guy in operation in France: he was being harassed by other members of the platoon. They woke him up in the middle of the night with torch lamps. So he had to be placed in protective care and the others had to be disciplined for their behaviour.

RO: Do you enjoy having that kind of responsibility for people?

RL: When I was just a soldier the only thing I had to do was obey orders, which can be a very nice place to be – you feel sheltered and protected. But when I became an officer… it’s a lot harder and the responsibility can be heavy. The stakes are different. Whereas in cinema I’m the boss, in the army I have to respond to superiors, and then those orders have to be passed along to the soldiers in my platoon properly. So there’s this chain of command, as well as the uncertainty over the outcomes of any decisions. It can be a matter of life and death. If you have to fight, there are duties and liability.

RO: Have you personally been in combat?

RL: No, but we participate in war games and combat exercises. The first time I led one was very overwhelming: there was all this shooting and gunfire and I lost half of my platoon in the exercise. I had to deal with the difficult realisation that maybe I’m not as good a leader as I’d thought. Even if I make a bad film, nobody is likely to die.

RO: Has your army training helped you as a film director in any way?

RL: It’s the other way around: the filmmaking gave me the confidence to join the army. When directing a movie, I’m the driving force of the project so I have to inspire and motivate everybody, even when I’m not entirely sure how. That authority that comes with directing helped me to be more credible as an officer. But in turn, the army has exposed me to a world I would have never otherwise experienced. I never wanted to stay solely in the cosseted world of filmmaking, so the army’s been a way for me to engage with people and society on a different level. And in fact the next film I’m writing is about the French Foreign Legion.

RO: Is that the part of filmmaking you enjoy most, writing?

RL: Writing is like freedom, total freedom. I can write anything I imagine. I’m really influenced by the 18th-century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, both in my writing and in my day-to-day life. Spinoza’s philosophy is about ethics, free from morality or judgement. So similarly, I try to present my characters in a non-judgemental light. Spinoza is very complicated and difficult to read, but there’s a little book called Spinoza: Practical Philosophy that’s more accessible. Read it once a year and it will give you all the strength you need.

RO: Thanks for the tip! Did you always want to be a filmmaker?

RL: When I was young I wanted to be a runner, but I have a problem with my back, so I couldn’t. Then I wanted to be a secret agent. So now I study philosophy and I always enjoyed photography so I guess filmmaking lies somewhere between the two.

Interview by Richard O'Mahony. Photograph courtesy of Organic. Baden, Baden is now showing on mubi.com. Would you like to be the next featured reader? Then sign-up sister and tell us about yourself!