Bataclan attack, 7 years on: A film on grief

21 Nov

Seven years ago, on November 13, 2015, three Islamist terrorists armed with assault rifles and explosive belts stormed the Bataclan during a concert by the US band Eagles of Death Metal, taking the audience hostage and killing 90 people.


About the same time, 40 people were murdered in attacks on bars, restaurants and at the Stade de France national stadium. The Paris attacks by the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organization struck France to the core, and the Bataclan has become its symbol.

A still from film 'You Will Not Have My Hate': a man and a child sit on the floor in the child's room, playing with building blocks.A still from film 'You Will Not Have My Hate': a man and a child sit on the floor in the child's room, playing with building blocks.

On that night of November 13, journalist Antoine Leiris lost his wife Helene. The two were young parents, their son Melvil just 17 months old. While the world tried to find an explanation for the inconceivable horror of the attacks, Leiris posted an open letter on Facebook. In moving words, he addressed the attackers and denied them, "the dead souls," his hatred — as well as that of his son. The message went around the world. Later, Leiris published a book about how he fought his way back to life with his son, titled "You Will Not Have My Hate."

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View from the outside

Now a film based on the book, directed by German filmmaker Kilian Riedhof, has been released. A relative recommended the book, Riedhof told DW. A father and husband himself, it moved him so much that he ended up making a film: "Imagining how this terrorist attack could affect you — that's a nightmare that happens to this family," he says, adding the book struck close to home right away, and that he knew he wanted to turn it into a film.

Riedhof met with Antoine Leiris in Paris. Concerns that Leiris might prefer a Parisian filmmaker were dispelled immediately. "He thought it was good that we had a certain distance from the epicenter of the action," says Riedhof. "After all, it takes a certain amount of distance to understand some things."

So the filmmaker took on the role of supportive friend, all the while "very aware of the responsibility." The trauma is still very fresh in Paris, he says, adding that an incredible number of people have stories about that night.

Avoiding sensationalism

Accordingly, Riedhof took a cautious approach to the film. Pierre Deladonchamps plays the role of Leiris; he resembles him and brings across the charm and intellect Leiris radiates despite his grief. Deladonchamps conveys with absolute credibility the shock and trauma, but also the healing of a man who is working his way back into life with the help of his son.

Their apartment is their cocoon, their shelter, where everything reminds them of Helene, but also gives them strength and meaning to keep going. The camera is always very close to Deladonchamps and Zoe Iorio, who plays the role of Melvil. "It was important to us that we tell the story gently and sensitively. It was less about dramatizing and more about listening and empathizing," says Riedhof. The attacks, the assassins, the corpses are not shown in "You Will Not Have My Hate."

The film rather focuses on the effect such an act has on a family. "Having to deal with the feeling of hatred and despair and overcoming that... To make that a physical experience for the viewer was certainly a major task," the director says.

Retaking Paris nightlife

After the terrorist attack, the Bataclan hall stayed closed for about a year while it underwent a major renovation. Then the people of Paris reclaimed the venue, defiantly stating "Je suis en terrace" (I'm on the terrasse) as they returned to outdoor cafés and bars. They refused to be intimidated or have their lifestyle taken away. At the reopening of the Bataclan, British musician Sting said he wanted to remember the victims but also celebrate music and life.

Strong memories, 7 years on

A few days before the seventh anniversary of the attacks, on October 23, 2022, German folk pop duo Milky Chance played to an enthusiastic crowd at the Bataclan. "By now we are used to working here, but it always does something to you. We always think about it," Karim and Djerry, who work security at the Bataclan, told German news agency dpa before the start of Milky Chance's concert.

Playing at the Bataclan was a "balancing act," Milky Chance's Philipp Dausch says, adding that perhaps that was the challenge. His band colleague Clemens Rehbein said that "after all, it's a very life-affirming response." "The fact that concerts are now held here again and that the mood is so exuberant doesn't mean, or shouldn't mean, that people forget what once happened," he says.

Through his research for the film, director Kilian Riedhof observed that the night of terror is still very much on people's minds in Paris: "The wound can still be felt today, people have a very concrete connection to that night," he says. "But I think Parisians very quickly began to counter it with life, to have precisely that beer on the terrasse, and to respond with culture."

The terrorists' message was to hide: their aim was to instill fear. But "Parisians understood very quickly that that's exactly what you can't do. You can't let yourself be driven out of public places. They opted to go back to life, be with each other, defend culture — theater, music, cinema — because that's just the right response to hate."


Autor Philipp Jedicke

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