The Black Book

Le Cahier Noir

A film by Valeria Sarmiento

Starring Lou de Laâge, Stanislas Merhar, Niels Schneider, Jenna Thiam

The story of the adventures, in the twilight of the eighteenth century, of a singular couple formed by a little orphan with mysterious origins and his young Italian nurse of a similarly uncertain birth.

They lead us in their wake, from Rome to Paris, from Lisbon to London, from Parma to Venice.

Always followed in the shadows, for obscure reasons, by a suspicious-looking Calabrian and a troubling cardinal, they make us explore the dark intrigues of the Vatican, the pangs of a fatal passion, a gruesome duel, banter at the court of Versailles and the convulsions of the French Revolution.

  • 2018, France / Portugal - Period-drama

Release date


Lou de Laâge
Stanislas Merhar
Niels Schneider
Jenna Thiam
Fleur Fitoussi    
David Caracol
Vasco Varela da Silva
Tiago Varela da Silva

With special participation by 

Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet
And a friendly participation by

Victoria Guerra, Joana Ribeiro and Catarina Wallenstein


Screenplay Carlos Saboga
Freely based on the novel “Livro Negro de Padre Dinis” by Camilo Castelo Branco
Original music Jorge Arriagada
Cinematography Acácio de Almeida
Sound Carlos Mota, Miguel Martins
Film Editing Luca Alverdi
Art Direction Isabel Branco
Assistant Directors Paulo Mil Homens, António Pinhão Botelho
Executive Production Ana Pinhão Moura
Co-Producer Carlos Bedran

Produced by Paulo Branco
A co-production Leopardo Filmes, Alfama Films Production
In association with CB Partners, APM Produções
And participation of Cine +, RTP
With the support of Procirep, Câmara Municipal de Lisboa, Lisboa Film Commission

Valeria Sarmiento

Born in Chile in 1948, Valeria Sarmiento studied Philosophy and Cinema before starting her career as a filmmaker. Exiled in Paris after the 1973 coup, she kept sending political messages to Latin American leaders through her films and documentaries. She is also the privileged collaborator of Raul Ruiz, for whom she edited most of the films, and with whom she lived.

EL HOMBRE CUANDO ES HOMBRE (1981), filmed in Costa Rica, tackles Latin American machismo by its least harmful and most sympathetic sides (romanticism, sentimentality, courtesy), before progressively unveiling the worst aspects of everyday oppression. Popular songs and Mexican mariachis serve as commentary or counterpoint. Both in documentaries and in fiction, Valeria Sarmiento pays attention to dramaturgy and weighs her suggestions carefully. THE PLANET OF CHILDREN (1991), filmed in Cuba, plays on ambiguity to better describe an institution for children which is supposed to encourage professional vocations and leads them towards the end of the Castro era.

Fiction films confirm her attachment to popular culture and her willingness to play with conventions and stereotypes. OUR MARRIAGE (1984), her first feature film, is selected in many festivals and received the Young Director Award in San Sebastian. AMELIA LOPES O’NEILL (1991) was selected at the Berlin Film Festival in 1991 and received the Gan Foundation Award. Filmed in Chile, this film is part of the melodramatic universe of the bolero, and Valeria Sarmiento develops a look at the mentalities and behaviors that persist, beyond transgressions. In her next films, ELLE (1994) and ROSA LA CHINA (2002), she continues to reflect on the couple. The UNKNOWN of STRASBOURG (1998), with a paradoxical aesthetic, will also stand out. In 2012, she takes over from Raùl Ruiz, who dies during the preparation of the film, and directs THE LINES OF WELLINGTON, a great historical fresco and choral film about the Napoleonic debacle in Portugal in 1810.

In 1988, she received an endowment from the Guggenheim Foundation.

In 2008, Stanford University organized a retrospective of her work.

In 2010, she shared with Raùl Ruiz the Art Critics Circle’s Bicentennial Award for Cinema.

Lou de Laâge - Actress

Born in 1990 in Bordeaux, Lou de Laâge was discovered by the public in 2008. At the age of 18, she made her debut in an episode of “ The little murders of Agatha Christie”.

Selective Filmography:
2011 : 18 years old and Rising by Frédéric Louf
2011 : Nino (the imaginary teen of Nino Ferrer) by Thomas Bardinet
2013 : Jappeloup by Christian Duguay
2013 : People who are kissing by Danièle Thompson
2014 : Breathe by Mélanie Laurent
2015 : The Tournament by Élodie Namer
2015 : The Wait by Piero Messina
2016 : The Innocents by Anne Fontaine

Stanislas Merhar - Actor

Born in 1974, he studied for five years piano at the prestigious École Normale de Musique de Paris.  He then works gilding on wood. He is noticed during a wild casting organized by Anne Fontaine for the need of the film “Dry Cleaning”.

Selective Filmography:
1997 : Dry Cleaning by Anne Fontaine
1999 : The Letter by Manoel de Oliveira :
1999 : Furia by Alexandre Aja
2000 : Franck Spadone by Richard Bean
2000 : The Captive by Chantal Akerman
2000 : Workers of the good lord by Jean-Claude Brisseau
2001 : Nobel by Fabio Carpi
2001 : I cavalieri che fecero l’impresa by Pupi Avati
2002 : Almost Peaceful by Michel Deville
2002 : Thank you Docteur Rey by Andrew Litvack
2003 : Adolphe by Benoît Jacquot
2003 : The Childhood of Catherine by Anne Baudry
2005 : The art of brooking up by Michel Deville
2005 : Code 68 by Jean-Henri Roger
2006 : Like a Black cat at the bottom of a bag by Stéphane Elmadjian
2006 : Müetter by Dominique Lienhard
2006 : The Legacy by Géla Babluani and Temur Babluani
2011 : In town by Valérie Mréjen et Bertrand Schefer
2011 : The art of loving by Emmanuel Mouret
2012 : Almayer’s folly by Chantal Akerman
2014 : Rosenn by Yvan Le Moine
2015 : The Shadow of women by Philippe Garrel
2015 : Left Foot Right Foot by Germinal Roaux
2017 : Madame by Amanda Sthers

Niels Schneider - Actor

Niels was born in 1987 in Paris. His mother was a model and his father an actor and movie director. Niels Schneider arrived in Quebec in 1996. He began nine years later in the profession, starting by dubbing movies and then working on his own on his acting. In parallel, he was taking courses of theatrical interpretation and drama.

Selective filmography:
2007 : The Taste of nothing by Pascal Robitaille
2008 : Everything is perfect by Yves Christian Fournier
2009 : I killed my mother by Xavier Dolan
2009 : Ready, set... party! 2 by Frédéric d’Amours
2010 : Heartbeats by Xavier Dolan
2011 : Hurlements 8 by Joe Nimziki
2012 : The atomic age by Héléna Klotz
2013 : You and the Nights by Yann Gonzalez
2013 : The mess by Étienne Faure
2013 : Opium by Arielle Dombasle
2014 : Gemma Bovery by Anne Fontaine
2014 : Quantum Love by Lisa Azuelos
2014 : La Voz en off by Cristian Jimenez
2015 : The Art Dealer by François Margolin
2016 : Kokoro by Vanja d’Alcantara
2016 : Dark Diamond by Arthur Harari
2016 : Polina by Valérie Müller and Angelin Preljocaj
2016 : Sleeping Beauty by Adolfo Arieta
2017 : Dalida by Lisa Azuelos and Jean Sobieski
2018 : One Nation, One king by Pierre Schoeller
2018 : An impossible love by Catherine Corsini

Jenna Thiam - Actress

Jenna was born in 1990 in a family of artists. Very early, Jenna Thiam is passionate for the theater. After several short films, the young actress finds her first role on television in the first episode of the series Clem, in 2010.

Selective filmography:
2013 : Smart Ass by Kim Chapiron
2014 : We Love you, you bastard by Claude Lelouch
2014 : Next Year by Vania Leturcq
2014 : Wild Life by Cédric Kahn
2015 : Anton Tchekhov -1890 by René Féret
2016 : Daydreams by Caroline Deruas
2017 : A Paris education by Jean-Paul Civeyrac

  • San Sebastián International Film Festival 2018

    Official Competition


    Contemporary World Cinema

Valeria Sarmiento

A journey throught Europe and History - Interview with Valeria Sarmiento

What is the origin of the project?  
Originally, I was supposed to make another film with Paulo Branco called The Ice Track (from Roberto Bolaño’s novel), but we could not find funding because the rights of the novel became more and more expensive; then, in one of Raoul’s (Ruiz) closets, I found a script written by Carlos Saboga that he was supposed to direct after Mysteries of Lisbon. At the time, the script was not very long. Much later, Carlos reworked it and I brought it to Paulo, and told him that since The Ice Track was still pending, we could do The Black Book. Paulo agreed right away because he loves Camilo Castelo Branco, the author of the novel, and he also loved the Mysteries of Lisbon. It seemed like a nice continuation, to make a second film about another novel by the Portuguese writer.
Is it a prequel to the Mysteries?  
Livro Negro de Padre Dinis (the original title of the novel) is a story that, in a way, precedes Mysteries of Lisbon where, using flashbacks, we witness the birth of a child. In The Black Book, we hear about the childhood of a boy named Sebastian, as well as the very important story of the woman who raises him. Raoul was interested, as he used to say to Carlos, by the character of the Cardinal. But I was more interested in the character of the nurse. I found references, elements that are very clear to us in Latin America. I thought about these stories of initiation in some bourgeois families, where it is sometimes the young housekeeper who awakens feelings of desire, and which can sometimes lead to terrible stories, because in a certain way it is the employees of the house who introduce the adolescents to sexuality. So I decided to focus on the character of the woman rather than the cardinal.
How much did you work on the scenario?  
I followed the initial script of Carlos Saboga, even though I slightly reduced the importance of the cardinal’s character. We had even thought of integrating a part of the Mysteries of Lisbon inside the film, but we would have had to shoot again, because we did not have the same photography, or the same framing or rhythm, and of course not the same actors. So I decided to skip this sequence, something that Carlos may not forgive me for...
Is it a series?  
It is, indeed, a serie in which historical characters appear. Unlike Raoul, this was the first time I had worked on this period. After reading the novel and the script, I learned a lot about that time. An era linked to the presence of libertines, like the Marquis. I read a book that taught me a lot about it, The Last Libertines by Benedetta Craver.
You practically never work with actors with whom you or Ruiz have worked before...  
I was in Chile and Paulo sent me the names of five actresses selected for the role of Laura and I watched extracts of the films in which they had played. I discovered Lou de Laâge in Les Innocentes, and by reviewing excerpts, it convinced me that she had to play the role. She has something frail, fragile that attracted me. She seems fragile but with an inner fire. For the rest of the characters, it depended a bit on Paulo Branco, for both practical and economic reasons. It was the first time I worked with them.
You film her with a generosity and sensuality that is new.
One of the things I discover with age is that I can look at young people with a lot of tenderness. I saw the couple she was forming on the screen with Niels Schneider, and I thought they were very beautiful examples of human nature!

The image and texture of this film is surprising...  
I had done the Lines of Wellington with chief operator André Szankowski, and we were supposed to work together again, but he was not available.

So I came back to my old friend and collaborator Acacio de Almeida, with whom we worked a lot, and it went very well, again. He is for me a director of photography so malleable, kind. He will soon be 80 years old ... I wanted the film not to be too realistic. And for that, we looked at the possibility of removing a color ... I discovered that after the Second World War, the Spaniards, not having the means to equip themselves in Technicolor, had invented a similar technique. They made several impressive films with this technique... with an astonishing result, where the greens turned to blues. In a subtle way, on our side, we used a filter to try to have the effect of these films. But the costume sets already had, say, one less color. Thus, we reached an impression of unreality, which is what I wanted in the film. One does not always realize how much the image, the colors, determine the vision that we can have of a film. Especially in this case of reverie, another time as fantasized. I wanted the viewer to enter the atmosphere of a tale. This seems to me more true to the script, since the main character is a legendary character. In any case, who is destined to become one?

We were looking for this effect, a kind of... fake in the color. It’s very sweet, you can see it little by little. That’s why we worked all the sets and costumes upstream, removing a color which is blue. It therefore became complicated, for instance regarding the soldiers’ uniforms. But if we succeeded, it is thanks to the talent and the work of the teams of Isabel Branco, who makes both the costumes and the sets. I have already worked with her three times. She is a great artist because she knows how to work with few means. Thanks to her, each era had its own coherence. Imagine, we could not use blue, and yet, we did well!

The film extends from before the Revolution, say 1770 to the second campaign of Italy, in about 1800. We had a map, a kind of giant frieze in which we noted the times of the script, with historical clues. We organized the eras, and then Isabel adapted the costumes and sets. I think that thanks to her also we reach the dreamlike feeling that is characteristic of this fantastic saga.
And how is the shooting of a film going on at different times and in different places?
We filmed for six weeks, which is short for a costume film. We mainly shot in Portugal, around Lisbon, Sintra... Portugal is the only place where we can still find palaces available. This may be the last time, since now to shoot vintage films we are starting to pay a lot of money. The story takes place all over Europe, but everything has been shot in the same place. There are certain details that evoke different places. For Rome, for example, we have put a little sound of bells, or the well-known sound of the “cobblestones of Paris”: it is a fiction, and we ask the spectator to believe it.
And you, often the editor, you entrust the editing to someone else.
When I make fiction films, I never take care of editing. Here it was Luca Alberdi, an Italian editor working in Portugal. I asked to work with him for the Lines of Wellington. What is interesting is that they are two films with a very different style. Here we needed to go fast, to have this series move at a frantic pace, whereas in the Lines we had to settle in the tempo, follow long and complex shots-sequence, since we wanted to see how the war settles in the life of the characters. The Black Book was designed as a series, it follows the rhythm, and you have to constantly revive the action.

I think there has to be a vertigo induced by the narrative, which does not let go of you for a second. The duration of the film must preserve this suspense, this very sustained rhythm.


Like the number of ellipses, for example?  
This rhythm requiring ellipses is desired by the structure of a series. It was already present in the original novel: everything is linked, we go from the French Revolution to the Empire and the Napoleonic wars.

Have you found some of your usual collaborators?  
Yes. For example, for the music, we worked with the composer Jorge Arriagada, from the beginning of the editing. We sent him edited sequences and he proposed music, and then we could, thanks to that, resume the editing process.
In his collaborations with you, he is a true chameleon.  
I know Jorge well, I edited a good part of Raoul’s films with his compositions. Sometimes, as was the case for Telenovela Errante, he “lends” me some music.
The wandering Telenovela, an unfinished project of Ruiz, which you have just edited. And by the way, you have just finished a series for Chilean television. What is the transition to an 18th century adventure film set in Europe like ?
My project in Chile is also a period film. It is the year 1952, when women have for the first time the right to vote in Chile, after terrible moments of communist persecution. This is the historical background of the series, told in ten episodes: the story of two women trying to recover their father’s store. I did not have to worry about moving from low budget films to another type of economy, since I work with different teams.

One thing is very clear in my work. On one side, there is fiction. I started as a fiction director with Corín Tellado, for example, by adapting sentimental stories. But when I make documentaries in Latin America, I make documentaries on very difficult themes. Like a kind of split personality. For the moment, before returning to shoot documentaries in Europe, I have to finish another unfinished project of Raoul, El Tango delviudo.
And that famous Black Book, then?  
This is typical of a series, and this is what the Cardinal, played by Stanislas Mehrar, says. It is always better that the mystery remains...

News about The Black Book


THE BLACK BOOK, latest film by Valeria Sarmiento, will be featured in the Contemporary World Cinema selection at the Toronto International Film Festival. It will be the film's World Premiere.

THE BLACK BOOK by Valeria Sarmiento in Official Competition at San Sebastian

THE BLACK BOOK, latest film by Valeria Sarmiento, will be in competition for the Golden Shell at the International Film Festival of San Sebastián 2018. The Festival will take place between the 21st and 29th of September. The film will be released in France on October the 3rd.

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