On the Rise French Filmmaker David Depesseville Talks Orphan Drama ‘Astrakan,’ Preps ‘Les Nuits d’Octobre’(EXCLUSIVE)


MARRAKECH —  “Astrakan” director David Depesseville is following on from his debut feature, which plays in man competition at the Marrakech Film Festival, with a second film looking at another real-life French child drama.

Although he’s keeping most specific details under wraps, he’s written the script for his follow-up film, which he will also direct. Carole Chassaing is producing. 

“Les Nuits d’Octobre” is, he tells Variety, based on the true story of a child that was murdered in France in 2005, followed by a trial in 2015. Depesseville is interested in how the story was told in France.

“I took lots of notes. I was very involved in this trial. It’s my account of what happened.”

On a slightly lighter note, scheduled to shoot next autumn is a short film about three brothers reunited by their mothers’ death called “Le Tremblement.”

“Each film has the right length and medium,” he says of his decision to make a short. 

The dark history behind “Astrakhan” is not the type of story you would expect to hear sitting by a glistening, blue swimming pool in bright, sunny weather in Marrakech. 

But Depesseville, the unassuming guy who awaits an interview staring at the water from a table decked in empty glasses, has dug up a rather unsettling history in “Astrakan.”

His debut feature tells the story of an orphan sent to live in the Morvan region of France with a family paid to take care of him.

The story was inspired by a real-life case in this area of France where Depesseville was raised. 

“Morvan was the department in France that received orphans from the rest of France,” he explains. “Poor families were paid to take in orphans. The point of departure for this film is the transaction between money and feelings. The families needed money. The orphans wanted to belong to a family.”

Depesseville grew up with friends that came from orphan families. “In one village, there are around fifty orphans. It’s a particular ambience. It stopped in the 1960s and 1970s, but there are traces,” he said. 

It’s also part of his own family history. His grandfather was an orphan that went on to have a large family. “I carry part of his history with me,” he added.

It goes without saying that he cried a few times making the film. “It’s a bit of a taboo subject but people had a need to share their stories,” he commented about gathering testimonies in the seven years it took him to complete the film, budgeted at €690,000 ($710,700).

“In 2015, I discovered a support-system for writers at the CNC. My first producer, unfortunately, then blocked the rights for a couple of years, but with my current producer I found the money,” he said. 

Their distributor, New Story, and the department of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté also contributed financing. The producers of the film are Carole Chassaing and Anaïs Feuillette.

Depesseville had to decide how to tell the story. Included in the film is a scene that shows the real-life orphan cemetery where there are no names on many graves.

“Some died in hospitals alone, or were abandoned by their families,” he said.

But the darkness of the hospital deaths he kept out of the film. “I wanted some light in the film. I also wanted it to be a universal story about childhood,” he said. “That part was too hard.”

The film world premiered in Locarno this summer and next plays at the Mannheim-Heidelberg Festival. It will be released in France in early February.

Running Nov. 11-19, the Marrakech Film Festival wraps this Saturday with a prize ceremony.

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