Length: 45/90 minute versions
An Interview with Simone Weil tells the story of an extraordinary woman’s evolution from political idealism to religious surrender. It takes us on a journey to understand how one woman’s compassion for those who suffer ultimately killed her. Its primary focus is Weil’s most politically active years in the 1930s, a period that culminated in a series of transformative religious revelations and her loss of faith in radical political change.
The film captures Weil’s political and spiritual legacy in the present, through encounters with scholars, family members, religious thinkers, and activists who have incorporated elements of her work into theirs. Although Weil died over sixty years ago, she is still an inspiring and relevant figure today -- someone who remained ethically and politically engaged in a volatile, cynical, and, some might argue, equally dark period of human history.
The story comes alive with evocative archival footage of 1930s Europe, Weil’s family photos and writings, and interviews. These elements are interwoven with contemporary shots of key places where Weil lived and worked, and an actress “becoming” Simone Weil over the course of the film.
Martyr, idealist, depressive, Simone was a bit of all three, says her niece Sylvie Weil, who looks uncannily like Weil. Filmed in Paris and New York, Sylvie expresses her awe for Simone, but also her conflicted feelings, not least of all about her aunt’s relationship to her Judaism. Raymonde Weil Nathan, Simone’s 97-year-old cousin, marveling at the adulation Weil receives, paints a vivid portrait of Simone and her social and cultural milieu. Father Jobert, a Benedictine monk at the Solesmes monastery, talks about Weil’s remarkable powers of attention, but then takes her to task for refusing to join the Catholic Church. Florence de Lussy, who has spent 27 years editing Weil's work at the Bibliothèque Nationale, tells us how Simone's idealism and intensity appeal to young people today. And actress Soraya Broukhim takes Weil’s ideas and life head on by trying to imaginatively embody her.
To Weil, the physical body was pivotal to understanding the world and empathizing with people in it. Her “philosophy of attention” was all about being able to empty one’s self and take on somebody else’s suffering, to truly experience it. By working with an actress, whose mission is by definition to become someone else, we dig deeper into Weil’s philosophy and approach to life.
The result is an experiment: an attempt to bring Simone Weil back to life through a mixture of fact and fiction. This mixture includes rehearsals, work in a modern factory, and ultimately an interview where the filmmaker questions the actress (in character as Weil) about her most important ideas and motivations.
Shot on HD video, the film’s visual style, informed by Weil’s philosophy of attention, involves long takes, emphasis on silences and non-verbal communication, and a focus on dynamics between people, both filmmaker and subjects, on and off screen