In Alice Diop’s eloquent, searching Towards Tenderness, four young men living in the Paris suburbs speak to her of their fronts of macho and misogynistic stereotypes – and the struggles to find, express and understand love hidden behind them. A compassionate, cliché-dismantling investigation into masculinity, sexuality and identity from one of France’s most accomplished young documentarians, it was the winner of the best short film award at the César Awards in 2017 and the Grand Prix France at Rencontres du moyen métrage de Brive.
The film is structured by the men’s own words, startling for their brutality, vulnerability and insight in turn. Diop worked hard to gain their trust, then recorded the interviews as part of a private workshop. In the final film, the conversations take on an even more striking intimacy, something like the protagonists’ interior monologues.
“The title Towards Tenderness evokes both the project and narrative movement of the film. The project resulted from my will to explore these voices, to convince these young men that accessing tenderness was a desirable horizon, that the right to and the possibility of tenderness resided in them.” ALICE DIOP
For the images, she decided to restage scenes from their day to day experience, shot in a style somewhere between fiction and documentary, and, in the case of the first two subjects, reenacted by other young men from the area, in order to protect the original speakers’ identities. Desynchronized from the soundtrack, these moments reveal the men’s often aggressive self-representation and the gaps between their thoughts and actions, while Diop’s camera maintains both distance and a sensual attunement to the rhythms and routines of their lives.
Born in Paris suburb Aulnay-sous-Bois in 1979 to Senegalese parents, and raised until she was ten in the Cité des 3000 housing project, Diop studied history before receiving a degree in sociology at Évry. Diop would return to the banlieues of her childhood 15 years after leaving for her first documentary, La Tour du monde (2005). Her La Permanence won the Louis Marcorelles Award at the Centre Pompidou’s Cinéma du Réel in 2016. She’s currently shooting a feature documentary loosely based on François Maspero’s Les Passagers du Roissy-Express (a travel diary from a train running through Paris’ suburbs), and recently finished writing her first fiction feature, inspired by an infanticide trial she attended and exploring the ambivalence of maternity.
- Credits for
- Towards Tenderness
- Anis, Mahair Bouffera, Modibo Diarra, Samaké Diarra, Rebecca Louis, Nidhal Majdoub, Rachid, Régis, Anis Rhali, Thaniat Satirou & Patrick Zingilé
- written by
- Alice Diop
- produced by
- Toufik Ayadi & Christophe Barral
- Sarah Blum
- Mathieu Farnarier
- production design
- Lélia Campbell
- costume design
- Lélia Campbell
- Amrita David