Philippe Rousselot

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Be Proud of Being Different

Cherish your independence even if it sometimes makes you feel

lonely.

Iwas raised in a small, dull, unattractive village in the east of

France, a village in the midst of being hastily rebuilt after

World War II. The population consisted of hard-working farmers

coping with incoming mechanization and easy credit that

would soon provoke their disappearance and steel workers

who mined steel at a time when that industry was running out

of prosperity. Kids went to school only because they had to

. . . knowing that family protocol would soon force them to

take over the small family farm or join the workforce in the

steel mill. My parents were probably the only people in the village

who owned and read books, and they read with passion.

They were also the only ones not to go to church.

As God did not exist in our house, one had to set his values

on his own, which required much more attention and work

than following any preset rules. And one had better get it

right. Ethics were not something to be taken lightly in my

family. Not being Catholic in a world that knew nothing else,

separated me from other kids in a very definitive way. I could

not join the local Boy Scouts (this would have required attending

church), was not invited to the numerous religious

events and their gargantuan banquets, and never knew about

mass, wine tasting, or all those practical jokes altar boys

bragged about at school. The church, which was located at

the center of the village, was an ominous building, which I

feared as mysterious and demonic until years later when I

Source: Printed with permission from Philippe Rousselot, cinematographer.

befriended the priest and went in to teach myself to play the

pipe organ.

Not attending mass on Sunday morning and Vespers in

the afternoon and Bible class on Thursday meant I had a lot

of time to kill and no friends to pass it with. So I had time

to read. From Tolstoy to Gogol to Dostoyevsky, I read my

mother’s entire collection of Russian literature.

Having a mother who came from such a remote land as

Russia would sometime provoke hostility and I did not even

dare say she was Jewish, something unheard of in the village.

It was right after World War II, and the fears that were prominent

during the war still loomed strongly in everyone’s head.

Being Jewish was a bit of news one concealed, by habit, to

ensure mortal survival.

Very soon I felt different from other kids and started keeping

my thoughts and my readings for myself, instinctively

knowing it was not right to howl with the pack and follow

leaders. I wasn’t into admiring the strongest and joining the

mob no matter what face it used to disguise itself. My not

being exactly what other kids wanted me to be often led to

fights; bruises, cracked lips and split eyebrows, especially

since I was usually the smallest of the class and the most

inept at displaying physical force.

But let me tell you what led me to the job I am doing now.

I was eleven years old when my parents sent me unaccompanied

to a winter camp in the Alps. At the time, these things

were not organized for kids the way they are now. A woman

was supposed to chaperone me to my destination, but as soon

as we boarded the train, she disappeared with some boyfriend,

never to be seen again. During the long night spent in

the train I wasn’t sure if I was on the correct train or if it was

going in the right direction. I was the only kid in the train and

no one seemed to be concerned by that. In post WW II Europe,

people took very little note to most things that were not of

major consequence.

When I got to the camp, I found myself a most unwelcome

person, with hardly a place to sleep in, no ski equipment and

no one to befriend. I remember this as a place engulfed in

constant darkness, where I wandered from one building to

another aimlessly, hiding my tears and my shame at wasting

a precious and so long-awaited vacation.

Then another kind of darkness saved my days. In the

camp, I discovered a little film club where 16 mm prints of

film classics were shown each night. Every evening I hid

myself in the obscurity of the screening room only to face,

when the lights came on, incredulous adults who could not

understand the presence of a kid and his interest in their

supposedly highly intellectual debate that followed each

projection.

But in the anonymity of the dark screening room, I discovered

extraordinary treasures: the black-and-white expressionist

shadows of the Golem and Caligary, Doctor Mabuse

and Murnau’s Dracula, the masterpiece of the postwar neorealism

Italian cinema. I saw The Night of the Hunter and

other great American classics. But what transformed me were

films by Cocteau like Le Testament d’Orphée, Le Sang d’un

Poête and the unparalleled Beauty and the Beast. Seeing

Beauty and the Beast, with its images inspired by Vermeer

(my favorite painter at the time), made me aware, for the first

time, of the presence of a person behind the camera. And

although I knew nothing at the time of the cinematographer

Henri Alekan, or what being a cinematographer was like, I

wanted to be that person.

At the end of the camp, I had done very little skiing, but

knew what I would do in life. I wanted to make images. It was

not a question of career, of money, not even of way of life.

There were images somewhere in a remote part of my mind

that I needed to bring onto the screen.

If I were so bold as to give any advice, I would say this:

never be ashamed of your differences or the thoughts that

come to you. Cherish your independence even if it sometimes

makes you feel lonely. Be happy in and with your solitude, for

only in solitude will you find creativity. And whenever you

see a work of art, a statue or a structure that interests you,

take a few steps back and a few steps in all directions and

find another point of view, your point of view.