Cambridge Edition October 2022 - Web



he German-French-Iranian film director Emily Atef is no stranger to portraying atypical relationships. Her oeuvre has

Being a foreigner is an amazing place to be confronted by yourself she travels by train alone from France to Norway – a country where it’s never night. “It’s far away from anything she knows, where nature is so immense that you feel humble. That makes it easier to let go,” explored marriages under the strains of international adoption ( Wunschkinder ), an Irish woman in Poland in pursuit of her long-lost one-night stand ( Molly’s Way ) and partnerships formed on suicide pacts ( Kill Me ). More Than Ever , about a couple put through the wringer when one is diagnosed with a rare lung disease, does not feel like a drastic departure. The difference this time around, however, is that it’s Emily’s first proper love story, she says – though undoubtedly with a morbid edge. “I was always interested in that moment of life at the end, how one gets ready for that new experience and journey,” Emily recalls. “We’re often taught through religion that it’s a dark experience, but somehow, even as a young adult, it interested me to see how one can find a way to experience that as peacefully and beautifully as possible. We had a Belgian shepherd when I was a child. When he became old, he disappeared. A friend of ours, who was a vet, told us that Belgian shepherds are close to their wolf ancestry and that wolves, when they feel it’s their time, leave to avoid endangering the pack. That’s how the idea came – a young woman trying to find her place.” When wife Hélène discovers her illness,

’TIL DEATH DO US PART Emily Atef’s signature explorations of relationships and the human condition are brought to life in More Than Ever, starring Vicky Krieps and the late Gaspard Ulliel

Emily says. It’s a destination she traversed in her twenties on a motorbike tour. The sublime light of the region also imbued the film with another layer of meaning. “When you’re there, living it, you think you’re on drugs,” Emily laughs. “With this idea that when you die, you see light, I like that Hélène goes to it. But it’s not as harmonious as she imagined.” More Than Ever has been ten years in the making. Though her work has garnered a sizeable stack of awards, funding was a continual issue, potentially because of its macabre leanings. “Funders were afraid to see it and, after Covid-19, people are scared, too,” Emily explains, venting her frustrations at the limits of contemporary cinema. “I have nothing against Marvel, but when there’s only that... I was trying to go to the cinema and was thinking, where are all the other films? Why are we all watching only Marvel, as if we were all 13-year-old boys? I hope people get tired of that and there is more diversity.” The female experience – and ‘women in existential crises’ – are a constant undercurrent in Emily’s features, something she returns to in this contemplation on love and carving out one’s own path. “I’ve been a frustrated audience member of films in my youth, my childhood and as an adult – not only cinema, but TV. For so many years, the

only heroes we saw – that I would have to feel and hope for – were boys,” says Emily. “We’re half of humanity and half of the stories to tell.” Emily’s French-German- Luxembourgish latest also follows in the cross-cultural steps of her previous films, blending languages and bringing together the brightest talent from different nations. “I’m half French,” says Emily. “I’ve always wanted to do a French film, but everything prior to this had been German because I studied and live here.” Co-lead Gaspard Ulliel sadly passed away before the premiere at Cannes this summer. “We were in the editing process and when you edit, you’re with these actors every day, every breath, every eyelash,” Emily recalls. Starring opposite Luxembourgish luminary Vicky Krieps, the pair lend the lead roles a stirring emotional intensity not easily forgotten. On the horizon for Emily is her first novel adaptation – an exploration of the hypocrisy directed toward female desire. She is returning home: born in Berlin, moving to LA aged seven, then France aged 14, Emily suggests that such cultural shocks can reveal many things about ourselves: “Being a foreigner is an amazing place to be confronted by yourself and have the space to really see what you want.”


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