Damien Bonnard | A life experience

Damien Bonnard was first spotted in the cinema of Alain Guiraudie (Stay upright) and Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk) before being truly revealed to moviegoers thanks to the shocking film by Ladj Ly, Wretched. The French actor, however, has never invested so much as for the role he plays in The restlessdrama by Belgian filmmaker Joachim Lafosse (Naked property, free student, to lose reason), in which he lends his talents to a painter suffering from bipolar disorder. We met the actor during his visit to the Cinemania festival in Montreal.

Posted at 8:00 a.m.

Joachim Lafosse was inspired by his own family history – that of his father in particular – to write this film built around a couple who love each other, in which an untreated bipolar disorder comes to interfere. What was the attraction for you?

As soon as I finished reading the script, I wanted to do it. I really like Joachim’s cinema. Beyond what the character I play suffers from, there is this love story which leads to a beautiful reflection on how to love in times of crisis, how we try to save things, how we resist , or how we let go. It leads us to reflect on everything that makes love last or no longer hold.

On learning that you had studied fine arts, Joachim Lafosse made the character you play a painter rather than a photographer, like his father was. Isn’t it unusual to play a role through which you can showcase so many facets of your talent?

Joachim called on Piet Raemdonck, a Flemish painter. I spent three weeks in his studio, during which we painted the scenes for the film together. Sometimes Piet started them and I finished them, other times it was the opposite. It still creates a special dynamic because this kind of collaboration happens rather rarely in the field of visual arts, the profession of painter being essentially solitary. But I believe that Piet was pleased to find himself in a more collective approach. At first, it felt a little strange to put my own brushstroke on his work, but our complicity quickly took hold. We even did an exhibition of our works together in Paris because we thought it was great that people could see the paintings in person. It was a very nice experience.

Damien Bonnard A life


Damien Bonnard in The restlessa film written and directed by Joachim Lafosse

How did you come to pursue acting after finishing your studies in fine arts?

Honestly, I can’t say. After my studies in Nice, I did lots of different jobs because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. In particular, I was a motorcycle courier for a box that had a lot of movie people among its customers. I have been an assistant for artists. Once settled in Paris, I was always at the theater or the cinema. I remember that after seeing measure for measure, a play by Shakespeare, I enrolled the next day in theater classes and film schools. I then did extras, played small roles, and I told myself that that was my only way. I made every effort to make it happen. It took me 10 years.

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Damien Bonnard, Leïla Bekhti and Gabriel Merz Chammah in The restlessa film by Joachim Lafosse

The restless is an intimate drama focused primarily on the immediate family of the character you play, including his wife (Leïla Bekhti) and young son (Gabriel Merz Chammah). Damien – the character has the same first name as you – becomes an indestructible dynamo who imposes on his family his overflow of energy, with the risks of slippage that such behavior can bring. How did you do it?

This is the film in which I have invested the most. It was necessary to translate well what is told there and what there was to do. To be able to paint, to be violent at times, to understand the mechanisms of bipolarity, then to learn to go on a catamaran and to swim in the open sea, which really scared me. To nurture the character, I met patients who suffer from the same disease and I worked with several psychiatrists. We also had 10 days of rehearsals on the real sets, which is very rare. And very useful.

This feature film, which was in the running for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival last year, also discreetly echoes the pandemic. Did the fact of having shot it just after the first confinement have an impact in this respect?

At the time the filming took place, there were very few things open and there was no vaccine yet. I think that, in a way, it helped us, because we were among ourselves all the time, as a small team, in our bubble. We introduced this reality slightly in the film in order to mark the era.

What was your reaction to watching The restless for the first time ?

DB: I wanted to see the film before its presentation at Cannes. I love him deeply. He always pushes me, always shakes me. This family still matters to me. I enjoyed the adventure of this shoot so much that I’m even a little nostalgic. Sometimes I was picked up to go to the set while I was painting. I also painted sometimes in the evenings and on weekends. This film is a life experience, in fact.

The restless hits theaters May 20.

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Damien Bonnard | A life experience