- 08 Feb 2024 9:20 am CET
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In "Bisons", the new film by "Platzspitzbaby" director Pierre Monnard, Maxime Valvini plays a dairy farmer who resorts to unusual means to save the family farm. Keystone-SDA met the actor for an interview.
Which Swiss actor would you spontaneously think of when you hear this role description?
Steve Chappuis is an introverted dairy farmer from the Vaudois Jura and also a talented wrestler who thinks he has a chance of winning the championship. Together with his recently widowed mother, he does a poor job of keeping the family farm going and is persuaded by his somewhat shady brother to take part in illegally organized fights in France for a lot of money.
You probably won't know anyone until you've seen Maxime Valvini in his first film role in "Bisons". On the day of the film's world premiere during the 59th Solothurn Film Festival, the actor recalls in an interview with the Keystone-SDA news agency how he was asked by a friend a few years ago if he would like to do some test shots for a film project with Pierre Monnard. Valvini agreed. The two hit it off and the shots came out well.
Sound assistant and fighter
Valvini is no stranger to the film business. He has been working as a sound assistant for a good decade, but also practises martial arts such as jiu-jitsu at a professional level. In his youth, Valvini also came into contact with lutte suisse, or wrestling.
The idea of "Bisons" and the character of Steve gradually took shape. And although Valvini had never been in front of the camera before, his martial arts experience was a particularly strong argument for casting him in the role. According to Valvini, it is almost impossible to teach someone the movements and body awareness of a fighter in a short space of time so that it looks real.
Valvini started preparing even before he definitely had the role: "It was out of the question for me to show up on set on the first day of shooting without being perfectly prepared." The preparations would have been a good experience in any case, even if they hadn't taken him in the end. But Monnard was impressed by Valvini's commitment and ultimately gave him the role. "The training, the preparation for something, has always fascinated me extremely - almost more than the thing itself." It's a statement he returns to several times during the interview.
A lot of preparatory work
So Valvini's lack of acting experience was also a welcome excuse for even more preparatory work. "Creating a character - the way they think, speak, move - all of that interests me enormously. Understanding who this Steve is and how he relates to his family, to himself, to the animals." Valvini immersed himself in the script, had long discussions with Monnard and also met the actor Bruno Todeschini every week to work on acting techniques.
Working as a sound assistant for ten years, he has had the opportunity to watch numerous actors and actresses at work, "both the good and the bad ones." He spent the last two weeks before filming began on the farm, where a large part of the movie takes place. With all the work that had to be done there, especially with the animals, he virtually "appropriated" Steve's life on the farm physically.
And what about the other central aspect of Steve's story, the fights and the violence? "I can understand Steve's decision very well. I can also imagine making it myself in certain situations." If he suddenly needed money urgently and then someone came and offered him 1,000 francs to fight someone, he might also say yes.
Training every day
"I fight a lot, I train every day, I watch a lot of fights - I would be perfectly capable of doing it," says Valvini. And he doesn't find the type of fights shown in the movie reprehensible in itself: "Unlike random fights on the street, there are rules - and there is someone who says 'stop'." Of course there would also be risks, but you can assume that everyone takes part in them more or less of their own free will. Just like in the movie: Steve makes his decision without desire, almost reluctantly - but he makes it and accepts it.
"Bisons" shows the dark side of Steve's decision: the effects on an uncomprehending environment, the risk of serious injury, the possibility of not only winning but also losing everything. But it also shows the hypnotic fascination of violence. The experienced fighter Valvini should know: "There is almost nowhere else where you are so close to life. There is nothing else during a fight. All problems disappear into the background, like in a black hole. There's something very archaic about it."
*This text by Dominic Schmid, Keystone-SDA, was realized with the help of the Gottlieb and Hans Vogt Foundation.