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BELGIAN CINEMA FROM FLANDERS


Alex Masson / Staf Vanden Abele

BELGIAN CINEMA FROM FLANDERS Interviews with a new generation of filmmakers

FI Publishers


content

preface

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Antecedents

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interviews Kadir Balci Nic Balthazar Kaat Beels Brosens & Woodworth Vanja d’Alcantara Geoffrey Enthoven Johan Grimonprez Dimitri Karakatsanis Koen Mortier Nicolas Provost Michaël R. Roskam Caroline Strubbe Patrice Toye Fien Troch Dorothée van den Berghe Felix van Groeningen Pieter Van Hees Hans Van Nuffel Christophe Van Rompaey Wim Vandekeybus

26 32 40 46 54 60 68 74 80 86 94 100 108 114 122 130 138 146 152 160

Photo credits

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preface Seen from France, Flemish Belgian cinema doesn’t exist. It is easy to take part in a little test to confirm this: ask an average viewer, such as a basic film journalist, to name a Flemish film that he has seen in a cinema. The response has every chance of being rather disappointing. At best your panel will scratch its head while searching its memory for a title that cannot be found. At worst it will cite a film… from the Netherlands. Blame it on Dutch, the common language, but hardly likely to be exported here so that we can learn to tell the difference between the dialects spoken in Flanders and the tones of a Paul Verhoeven movie. More broadly, for the general public in France, there is only one Belgian cinema. It is French-speaking, its stars are Benoît Poelvoorde, Cécile De France and Emilie Dequenne, actors called French by association, by their popularity and the innumerable films that they make here… Impossible to say the same thing of a Jan Decleir or a Nand Buyl. And when the Dardenne brothers pointed out, when receiving their first Golden Palm for Rosetta, how much their films owed to Henri Storck, I recall two young French critics turning around to scan the room for a member of their team who would be there… As much as the least French museum dreams of hanging a canvas signed by a Flemish master on one of its walls, you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of cinemas who have had the poster of a Flemish film on their marquee in the past 15 years. Belgium may be a country of two cultures, but its cinema does not advance at two speeds. Flemish Belgian cinema well and truly exists, and I have encountered it. It is even more alive than ever, if I am to believe the films and opinions of the 20 or so “young” directors interviewed in this book. Despite being linked by common roots, they are an incredibly diverse group of filmmakers, capable of hitching their wagons to American and European influences, all the while developing a distinct imagination, a completely separate identity. It’s a cinema at once multiple and unique, since these films all address one central question: how to find a place in the world? It’s a modern way of formulating the famous “Who are we? Where have we come from? Where are we going?” which is even more legitimate in a country split into two communities.

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The works of these directors, all with very different personalities, are united around this fundamental question, when it opens up fields of possibilities. In France the tradition of the ‘Belgian joke’ has never really disappeared. To a certain extent it has even been confirmed by the misunderstanding around Benoît Poelvoorde or more recently François Damiens, with our audiences eagerly awaiting each new occasion to laugh at him. Flemish film production, that other Belgian cinema, has acquired today with these directors, and others to come, the great capacity to tell new stories, funny or not, but all captivating, which are only waiting to be seen and heard by viewers around the globe. Alex Masson Paris, april 2009

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1965 — The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short (André Delvaux)

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Staf Vanden Abele

Antecedents The 10th of November 1964 is a turning point in the history of Flemish Belgian cinema. It was the day that Renaat Van Elslande, the very first Flemish culture minister, signed a law creating a Film Council and a Selection Commission for culturally Flemish films. The Flemish had insisted to the French-speaking Belgians that they too should be able to create advisory bodies such as these. In effect, the aim was to collaborate with them as closely as possible. The first film to receive a Flemish subsidy was Emile Degelin’s ¿Y Mañana? but the result was disappointing, even after a second, shorter version of this vaguely comic film had been produced. In 1965, André Delvaux made The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short (De man die zijn haar kort liet knippen) adapted from the novel of the same name by Johan Daisne. Financed by the National Ministry for Education and Culture and the public broadcaster of the time, BRT, this film silenced those critics who deplored the poor quality of Flemish Belgian cinema. Even so, these first cine­matographic steps from André Delvaux did not generate immediate enthusiasm. At the end of 1965, the Flemish Catholic daily ‘De Standaard’ saw in this film about a school teacher in love with one of his pupils the talent of a director “who will make a name for himself”. Several months later, however, ‘Le Nouvel Observateur’ ranked Delvaux’s first film alongside Citizen Kane, Pierrot le fou and Salvatore Guiliano. The tone was set and the film that had been received without enthusiasm in Belgium after being shown on television finally got an international response. It went on to be shown for several weeks in cinemas in London and Paris. However, the Belgian public

had to wait until 1967 to see The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short in the cinema. Nevertheless, the enthusiastic André Delvaux had acquired a taste for directing and once more adapted one of Daisne’s novels in his second film, One Night, A Train (Un soir, un train). This time the finance came from France, and the cast was led by none other than Yves Montand and Anouk Aimée. With One Night, A Train, André Delvaux crossed national borders – it would therefore be unfair to call him a Flemish filmmaker. He felt at home in both cultural communities, which is why each side supported him. From then on, his body of work, composed as much of creative and experimental documentaries as feature films, belonged to Belgium’s cultural heritage. To date, several studies have been published on the quiet, magical realism of his work. Besides adaptations of novels by Suzanne Lilar (Benvenuta) and Marguerite Yourcenar (The Abyss / L’oeuvre au noir), André Delvaux was the first director who dared to make a feature film on collaboration in Flanders: Woman in a Twilight Garden (Een vrouw tussen hond en wolf). The woman in the title, Lieve – played by MarieChristine Barrault – is instinctively torn between her love for her husband, Adriaan, who has joined the ‘black brigades’, and her fascination for François, a hero of the resistance. The film also touches on the role played by a section of the clergy in the recruitment of young men to fight on the Western Front. This combination of remarkable period detail with the very intimate inner struggle of the heroine caused a sensation in Flanders and, through its subject matter, some

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1971 — Mira (Fons Rademakers)

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disquiet. The film provoked discussions, clashes of opinion and meetings. It was even selected for the Cannes Film Festival, which had already shown the director’s Belle and would later show L’oeuvre au noir. The Farewells (Het afscheid) by Roland Verhavert also benefited from support in the early years. Adapted from a novel of the same name by Ivo Michiels, the film was a local success in 1966. Its “simple story of simple people,” as the author himself described it, recounts the life of a telegraph operator who takes part in a secret mission and so must be ready to leave at any moment. Every day he says goodbye to his wife and children – and that ends up leaving traces. Skilfully adapted for the screen and acted with brio by Julien Schoenaerts and Senne Rouffaer among others, this story has stood the test of time remarkably well, despite being in black and white. The subsidies were used advisedly and the film had an exceptional run in Antwerp. The Farewells was screened in Brussels, but this attempt to put forward a side of Flemish culture was not very successful. Even the cinemas in Leuven hesitated for a week or two over programming the film, until the history students’ association threw its weight behind it.

Rademakers, with whom he had worked before. This story of villagers opposed to the construction of a bridge effectively harbours numerous conflicting dramatic issues. It is not simply the question of the struggle between the conservatives and the progressives, but also of underlying ideological differences. Mira is their principal witness, and at a certain moment must choose between Lander, who tries to prevent the construction of the bridge by violence, and the engineer Maurice who is charged with building it. Needless to say, Lander and Maurice are completely opposite personalities. The film had a devasta­ ting effect in 1971 and filled movie theatres. But Mira is also a beautiful story, entirely of its time, a brilliant piece of camerawork by Eddy Van der Enden with a magnificent soundtrack composed by Georges Delerue. Which is not to forget Willeke Van Ammelrooy and Jan Decleir playing the effervescent couple. Mira opened all the doors that faced producers, who thought that from then on, in order to have another success, it was enough to film a great Flemish novel in a professional manner. Everyone working at the production agency Kunst en Kino/Art et Cinéma, directed by Jan Van Raemdonck, immersed themselves in Flemish literature. Among other films, this gave rise to The Conscript (De loteling), Pallieter, The Flaxfield (De vlaschaard), The Lion of Flanders (De Leeuw van Vlaanderen) and The Van Paemel Family (Het gezin Van Paemel). The major role played by this Brussels-based production company in promoting Flemish Belgian cinema should not be underestimated, yet its enthusiasm was not immediately translated in to high-quality films.

The Farewells came 11 years after another film made by Roland Verhavert, Ivo Michiels and Rik Kuypers: Seagulls Die in the Harbour (Meeuwen sterven in de haven, 1955). Shown at Cannes, the film was also screened in numerous Russian towns. If The Farewells did not have a clear international success, it was at least awarded prizes, for example at the Venice, Edinburgh, Melbourne and Sydney film festivals. After that, it was necessary to wait until 1972 for Verhavert alone to After making Rolande or the Chronicle of a Passion direct Rolande, or the Chronicle of a Passion (Ro- – a harsh, mannered film which unfolds in an lande met de bles), inspired by Herman Teirlinck. aristocratic setting – Roland Verhavert twice took the path indicated by Jan Van Raemdonck, with But first, an interlude, namely the screening of The Conscript and Pallieter. Hendrik Conscience, the film Mira (Mira of de teleurgang van de water- the man who – according to certain Flemings – hoek) in 1971, an event that would also influence taught his people to read, had written The ConVerhavert’s career. The reason for this Dutch- script in 1850. At the time young people still drew Flemish collaboration was the centenary of the lots to see who had to do military service. The Flemish writer Stijn Streuvels. Hugo Claus sug- well-off who were let down by fate could buy their gested an adaptation of Streuvels’ De teleurgang liberty. Hendrik Conscience’s story was based in van de waterhoek to the Dutch filmmaker Fons part on his personal experience, and was added 11


1973 — Malpertuis (Harry Kümel) 1980 — Whitey from Sichem (Robbe de Hert)

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to and shaped by Verhavert and by Nic Bal, who worked for Flemish television. At the time his film was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival, the director even claimed that it dealt with the theme of partition and that he had conceived the highly controversial rape scene after being confronted by the atrocities experienced by women during the liberation of Berlin. This way of linking elements from the past with current or future facts seemed to be a habit with Verhavert. The end of Pallieter, adapted from a popular novel by Felix Timmermans, is even more striking and vivid in this respect. In effect, when Pallieter leaves his village he sees a number of polluting factories and petrochemical plants appear on the horizon. On the stylistic level, it seemed that Verhavert was saying goodbye to gloomy aestheticism in order to introduce a lively and dynamic narrative art. At the time, Pallieter was considered Verhavert’s best film, but little remains today of these long-lost qualities given the highly artificial performances. The film has become a curiosity, and a classic example of the unnatural and affected attitudes once adopted by actors. However Pallieter wasn’t an isolated case. By way of example, we could name the last two feature films by Roland Verhavert – Brugge die stille inspired by the novel of Georges Rodenbach and Peasant Psalm (Boerenpsalm), originally by Felix Timmermans. While Peasant Psalm suffered badly from a lack of vision on the part of the director, Verhavert is nevertheless an important figure in the Flemish cinematographic world, if only for his impressive filmography.

let us first look at Harry Kümel, the third founding father of Flemish Belgian cinema alongside André Delvaux and Roland Verhavert. Like his colleagues, Harry Kümel started with a black and white film, Monsieur Hawarden. Selftaught, he aimed high from the outset and even dedicated his first film to Joseph von Sternberg. The Selection Commission more or less agreed on Hawarden since it could not contemplate, at that time, a film adaptation of Daisy Miller by Henry James: the Flemish dimension of the work in question was not strong enough. At the time the Commission hammered home the necessity of this Flemish dimension, leading directly to an obligation that a Flemish version should be made of each film. This would later wrong-foot Harry Kümel, by forcing him to shoot a Dutch-speaking version of his film Malpertuis. Monsieur Hawarden is based on a short story of the same name by Filip De Pillecyn, forged into a cast-iron script by the Dutch writer Jan Blokker. The story turns around a woman who has a secret. She goes to live in a little village in the Ardennes and leads her life disguised as a man. The main characters were played by Ellen­ Vogel and Hilde Uytterlinden. This promising first film dealing with the inner self and outer appearances still provokes great interest today. In it Harry Kümel compares the exterior aspects of the film to the appearances of life. He could talk uninterrupted for hours on this subject and the aesthetics of cinema, demonstrating an extraordinary cinematographic knowledge. Monsieur Hawarden made its director’s reputation – the work was screened and awarded prizes at the Chicago Film Festival, amongst others. Seeing the film in Belgian cinemas was another story. In Antwerp in particular there was no faith in the film’s commercial prospects, and Monsieur Hawarden stayed on the shelf until the Studio cinema in Leuven dug it out and made a success of it in spite of everything. Other theatres reluctantly followed.

Between his own films, he was careful to preserve the continuity of his work, after a fashion, by working as a producer, for example on The Enemies (De vijanden) by Hugo Claus. In this way his production company Visie gave a large number of young filmmakers their first chances, and he launched or supported the careers of Guido Henderickx (Burnt Bridge/Verbrande brug), Jan Gruyaert (The Enclosure/In kluis), Patrick Le Bon (Hellhole/Hellegat), and Robbe de Hert (Whitey The director would later claim to have invented from Sichem/De Witte van Sichem). We will come his second film, Daughters of Darkness (Les lèvres back to these directors later in this chronicle, but rouges), from beginning to end. This erotic horror

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1972 — Louisa, a Word of Love (Paul Collet, Pierre Drouot)

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film was very freely inspired by stories about the Hungarian Countess Bathory and shot without public subsidy. Delphine Seyrig plays a moving heroine and the film was a resounding commercial success wherever it played. But in reality, the film merely allowed the director to keep his boredom at bay while waiting for Malpertuis.

Their aim was to prove that it was possible to put a film on the market despite having limited resources. While the scenario, about a case of blackmail, did not benefit from much care and attention, a fresh and particularly youthful wind blew through their cinematographic language. Collet and Drouot would drive on the machinery of Flemish Belgian cinema, and young people Malpertuis, for which Orson Welles himself came could at last see a little bit of themselves in Flemdown from his Olympus, shows signs of being ish films. set in Bruges… Kümel borrowed from Jean Ray the story of a man who takes hostage the Greek Collet and Drouot resorted to provocation gods and holds them captive at Malpertuis. over and again, for example with The Embrace Yann – nephew of the master of the house – at (L’étreinte), in which a rich upstart gives free rein all costs wants to leave this house full of secrets, to his erotic fantasies only to fall victim to them from which no-one has ever escaped. But three in the end. With its shocking images and subject women try to prevent him from doing so with matter, the film was rejected by the Festival of their charms. Simply penetrating the secrets of Belgian Cinema. In response, other filmmakers Malpertuis would be a great achievement. Two decided to withdraw their feature films from the versions of the film exist. One is edited by Ri- competition. Louisa, a Word of Love (Louisa, een chard Marden, and was screened at Cannes in woord van liefde) is the story of an aristocrat who 1972. The other was edited by Harry Kümel him- falls in love with two bohemians on the eve of the self. The director will not talk about the version First World War. A film of its time, made at the coldly received by the Cannes audience, and was beginning of the 1970s, it is considered by many unable to bear having this editor imposed on him critics to be the best film in Flemish Belgian cinby United Artists. So he took the reins himself ema. Its commercial aims were not forgotten for and, by an elusive mixture of mystery and the fan- all that. tastic, plus its international means of production, Malpertuis became a phenomenon in the history Many people were dumbfounded when it was of Flemish Belgian cinema. announced that Collet and Drouot were going to adapt Death of a Nun (Dood van een non) by Afterwards, Harry Kümel once more collected a Maria Rosseels. What did these godless advencrowd of admirers with a quiet film, The Coming turers have in store for this classic example of the of Joachim Stiller (De komst van Joachim Stiller). Catholic novel, both penetrating and extremely But these soon fell by the wayside with the facile popular? Maria Rosseels trusted them completetreatment of environmental themes in The Para- ly, but deplored the atheistic turn given to the dise Lost (Het verloren paradijs), and the soft-core spiritual struggle of her main character, Sabine. erotic exploitation of The Secrets of Love. Eline The Dutch co-producer would provide an ending Vere in 1991 marked the return of the real Harry closer to that of the novel for his territory. Kümel to the first rank. While he has filmed noth- After this film, shot partly in India and made posing since, the director is still working behind the sible because subsidies worth 10 million francs scenes on film projects. (around 250,000 euros) were suddenly available, Collet and Drouot parted company. But no one While Delvaux, Kümel and Verhavert immersed would forget their robust characters, their flair themselves very seriously in cinematographic and their commercial discernment. While Collet themes at the end of the 1960s, two intrepid continued as a director (The Beast, Close), Pierre young rascals jumped feet-first into the limelight: Drouot devoted himself to producing films by Paul Collet and Pierre Drouot. Their weapon was directors as diverse as Harry Kümel, André DelCash? Cash! – a film shot after the end of their vaux, Raoul Servais and Jaco Van Dormael (Toto studies with, for better or worse, their friends. the Hero). In the middle of the 1980s Drouot left 15


1983 — Zaman (Patrick Le Bon)

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the cinema scene for a time, but returned later as be as authentic as possible, he and his scripta coach and then as CEO of the Flanders Audio- writer Marcel Van Maele spent several months visual Fund (VAF). in the small village known as ‘Burnt Bridge’. In the film of the same name Verbrande brug, shot Paul Collet and Pierre Drouot would not remain in 1975, Guido Henderickx follows several of its the only iconoclasts of Flemish Belgian cinema inhabitants who, in the space of 24 hours, have for long. In Antwerp, Robbe de Hert, Guido Hend- to take decisions that will affect their whole lives. erickx and Patrick Le Bon founded the collective Henderickx showed a great respect for his charFugitive Cinema. Literary adaptations and trivial acters and depicted them with a talent that John commercial agendas were not in their line. Only Cassavetes himself would have admired. His reality counted: the cinema was there to wake subsequent film was therefore eagerly awaited, people up, and if necessary to shake up their and The Guinea Pigs (De proefkonijnen) began to consciences. take shape in 1980. This film shows how a multinational manipulates its workers in a chemical Robbe de Hert was the most distinguished of factory after a case of dioxin poisoning. But the the three, and their spokesman. After shooting expected response to this conventional accusaa series of anti-establishment short films, he tion was a slow in coming and the film did not came into his own with Suckers to Suffer About in create much enthusiasm in movie theatres. For a Camera Sutra (Camera Sutra of de bleekgezich- all that, the curtain did not fall on Guido Hen­ ten), a documentary broken up with fragments of derickx and he continued to make films such as feature film. The object of this Belgian “State of Skin (1987) and S. (1998) without having much the Nation” address was to provoke and to kick impact. He would return to his former glory with the legs from under the establishment. Over the series made for commercial television, such years this earned him the nickname of the enfant as Mother, What’s the Meaning of Life (Moeder terrible of Flemish Belgian cinema. waarom leven wij) and King of the World (Koning van de wereld). Even so, Guido Henderickx did not The first films by de Hert’s followers were much stoop to cobbling together films as vehicles for more promising and coherent than that of Fugi- local comics Gaston Berghmans and Leo Martin, tive Cinema’s mentor. Patrick Le Bon well and such as Scare-Mongers (Paniekzaaiers) for examtruly kicked over the traces with his film Greeting- ple, canned by Patrick Le Bon, and some years sand a Living/Get Lost! (Salut en de kost) and with beforehand Rough Diamonds (Zware jongens) by his lead character – a rebellious teenager – lightly Robbe de Hert. touched on a large number of problems. But the director himself was fully aware of them. His next For these socially engaged filmmakers to work film, produced by Roland Verhavert and called with two very popular comics was not strictly Hellhole (Hellegat), described the decline of the speaking the high point of their careers, but industrial brickworks along the river Rupel and there were extenuating circumstances. Feature its dramatic social consequences: Le Bon hit the films were also being written abroad for charbull’s eye! But his subject matter did not appeal acters such as these – think of the films with to the general public. Patrick Le Bon would set Coluche – and at the national level, the subsidies his next film Zaman (1983) in the political world awarded to Flemish Belgian cinema had been of Antwerp. He described it himself as a “real markedly reduced. Producers could no longer B-movie”, proving that even directors can under- count on a budget advance of around 60% from estimate their own work. Everyone agrees on one the authorities, but under pressure from liberally point: for one reason or another, Patrick Le Bon tinged culture ministries they had to be happy has not really had the success he deserved. with 35%. A director able to present local comics was almost sure to find an audience. This way of All things considered, his colleague Guido Hen- film production had other undesirable effects, inderickx would have better luck. Henderickx con- cluding exaggerated product placement. But the sidered shooting a film to be a real mission. To success of the Gaston and Leo films was nothing 17


1994 — Taxandria (Raoul Servais) 2009 — Sister Smile (Stijn Coninx) 1992 — Less Dead Than the Others (Frans Buyens)

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compared to the performance of stand-up comedian Urbanus, brought to the screen by Stijn Coninx in two blockbusters: Hector (1987) and Koko Flanel (1990). Coninx – who in 2009 presented Cécile De France in Sister Smile (Sœur Sourire) – escaped all reproach. But this important interlude shouldn’t cause us to lose sight of Robbe de Hert. In 1980 he demonstrated with Whitey from Sichem (De witte van Sichem) that he was perfectly capable for combining a popular theme – the book of the same name by Ernest Claes is a classic of Flemish literature – with social engagement. Fine mise en scène, good production (again Roland Verhavert), a good story and a good cast: that meant success. When Robbe de Hert recalled his own school days in Blueberry Hill (1989) and Brylcream Boulevard (1995), turnstiles spun again. Robbe is taken seriously. Several films followed, including the European thriller Trouble in Paradise (1989) and Gaston’s War (1997), retracing with a pleasing mise en scène the exciting true adventures of the Ghent resistance fighter Gaston Vander­meerssche. With the film adaptation of The Publishers (Lijmen) by Willem­ Elsschot, the filmography of de Hert already brings us into the third millennium. The name of Elsschot brings us back to the early years of this chronicle. In 1973, Frans Buyens adapted his short story Will-o-the-Wisp (Het dwaallicht) for the cinema. In the process, a remarkable artist and a committed socialist made the leap from being an internationally appreciated documentary maker to being a feature film director. The result was controversial, a state of affairs that did not improve the following year with the screening of Where Little Birds Cough (Waar de vogeltjes hoesten). Commissioned by ASLK/CGER (which later became Fortis Bank, and recently BNP Paribas), this film was initially conceived as a documentary. Frans Buyens however turned it into a fable about a florist and a dreamer who together sell flowers, and then fresh air. According to Buyens, both his client and the press failed to understand this film, modern for Flemish Belgian cinema and ahead of its time in other respects as well. But the director recovered his reputation with a very personal film made in

1992: Less Dead Than the Others (Minder dood dan de anderen). This moving and resonant film on euthanasia in part looked towards documentary and encouraged a dignified, well-intentioned debate on the subject. Like Frans Buyens, Raoul Servais – who among other prizes won the Golden Palm at Cannes for his short film Harpya – had no experience of making feature films when in 1994 he shot Taxandria. Through this film – which describes the dictatorship of Taxandria, where the ‘eternal present’ reigns because all references to time are forbidden – Servais achieved his great dream: bringing together live-action and animated images. However, the film doesn’t transcend this mixture and Servais wisely returned to animated short films, a genre in which he represents Flemish Belgian cinema with elegance and individualism on the international stage. The international scene in which Hugo Claus moved was not so much oriented towards the cinema as literature. A man of many cultural talents, he nonetheless merits a place in the pantheon of Flemish Belgian cinema, if only as a scriptwriter. Even before the beginning of this chronicle, Claus worked with the Dutch director Fons Rademakers on The Knife (Het mes) and Doctor in the village (Dorp aan de rivier), so their collaboration on Mira was no accident. Claus equally adapted his own works for the screen, including Friday (Vrijdag, 1981), The Sacrament (Het sacrament, 1990) and The Other Life (De verlossing, 2001). In 1985, the work expected to be the most prestigious in Flemish Belgian cinema – namely the film adaptation of The Lion of Flanders (De Leeuw van Vlaanderen) by Conscience – ended in disaster. Critics who dared say so at the time attracted the wrath of the profession, but the director himself later preferred to sweep the film under the carpet. He took a solemn oath to never make another film – a promise he did not keep, however. It is not always easy for the young to emerge from the shadow of giants, but from time to time some succeed, with stimulating and exciting results. Marc Didden and Brussels by Night (1983), for example, in which Max strikes up a friendship 19


1994 — Manneken Pis (Frank Van Passel) 2000 — Everybody Famous! (Dominique Deruddere) 1996 — Everything Must Go (Jan Verheyen)

1963 — Brussels by Night (Marc Didden) 1993 — Daens (Dominique Deruddere) 1990 — The Sacrament (Hugo Claus) 1998 — Rosie (Patrice Toye)

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with three people he meets in the capital, and which won the Federal Prize for Best Script in 1980. With an unforgettable opening shot from the Sheraton lift, slowly revealing the city, the visual treatment astonished many viewers. Such an up-to-date and thrilling Flemish film, carried along by energetic music, had never been seen. Brussels by Night went on to pocket the Prize for Best First Film at the San Sebastian Film Festival. Marc Didden tried to ride this wave with the road movie Istanbul, but the high hopes placed on him were not realised. These two films were produced by the company Multimedia (MMG), since taken over by Eyeworks, which under the leadership of Erwin Provoost contributed greatly to the evolution of the Flemish film landscape.

All told, the 1990s were years of discord for Flemish Belgian cinema. Political leaders struggled on the one hand with the ever increasing economic aspects of film production, while on the other hammering home the need for the final product to have a Flemish cultural identity. Either way, available resources were very limited and only two or three films could be financed. Off-stage, the Boys of Jan Verheyen put on their make up before appearing in the spotlight. Following Hollywood’s example, Flanders was producing its own films for teenagers. Verheyen followed this up with several films, including the American The Little Death. Closer to home he made, amongst others, the successful films Team Spirit, Alias and Gilles (Buitenspel). Besides these commercial films, there have also been adaptations of literary works such as Everything For example, it supported Dominique Deruddere, Must Go (Alles moet weg) and Cut Loose (Los). who made his debut in 1987 with Crazy Love, a feature in reality made up of three short films Other glimmers of hope also shine in the Flemish based on stories by Charles Bukowski. Even film industry, such as the poetic Manneken Pis American studio Paramount showed an inter- by Frank Van Passel. Rosie (1998) by Patrice Toye est, but dropped out on discovering it contained also hit the bull’s eye with its original tone and its a scene of necrophilia. Tempted abroad, Derud- warm and contemporary human dimension. dere left for Ogden, in Utah, to adapt John Fan- Meanwhile, in 1993 Erik Van Looy filmed Ad te’s Wait until Spring, Bandini (1989). One of the Fundum, in which he targeted the often vulgar executive producers was a certain Francis Ford and sometimes even degrading world of student Coppola. Afterwards nothing stirred until Derud- initiation ceremonies. This film was a test run for dere made the very personal, yet impenetrable his next, Shades, in which Mickey Rourke played film Hombres complicados (1997). His hour of the role of a burnt-out Hollywood director, hired glory finally came when he was nominated for to make a film about a serial killer. Van Looy loves an Oscar for Everybody Famous! (Iedereen be­ the cinema and expresses that love through his roemd!), a film shot in 2000 which tells the story cinematographic style, but it was necessary to of a singer of very little talent who is encouraged wait for Memory of a Killer (De zaak Alzheimer) by her father to clamber into the spotlight. in 2003 to see that talent fully emerge. This film about an assassin suffering from Alzheimer’s In this way Deruddere followed in the footsteps disease immediately pushed Van Looy centreof Stijn Coninx, mentioned above, who was also stage, and the subsequent Loft has done nothing no­­minated for an Oscar in 1993 for his film to move him from the spotlight. A stylish, dexDaens. Coninx watched in distress as the high- terously assembled crime drama with nothing to est distinction in Hollywood was carried off by fear from Hollywood competitors, it is currently Indochine. Daens, which traces the life of a priest the most popular Belgian film of all time, with in 19th Century Aalst, is still a giant of Flemish more than 1.2 million tickets sold. Belgian cinema. Screened on the fringes of the Venice Film Festival, the film provoked a clash The turn of the millennium saw new talents with the Vatican’s director of cinema, who con- emerge, such as Hans Herbots and Lieven Detested its historical accuracy, prompting heated brauwer. Herbots first adapted Falling, a book by exchanges. Anne Provoost, and after this intimate portrait of young people went on to oversee the filming 21


2003 — Any Way the Wind Blows (Tom Barman) 2005 — Long Weekend (Hans Herbots) 2001 — Pauline & Paulette (Lieven Debrauwer) 2008 — Loft (Eric Van looy)

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of Long Weekend (Verlengd weekend) and Storm Force (Windkracht 10) – the most spectacular Flemish film of all time. Debrauwer was welcomed with open arms by the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes, for his brilliant Pauline & Paulette (2001), about two elderly people who have to look after one another. The film was cherished. Sweet Jam (Confituur), with a similar theme, caused a slight feeling of déjà vu but nevertheless landed on the Venice Days programme at the Venice Film Festival. The actress Hilde Van Mieghem and dEUS musician Tom Barman also made their first steps as directors with The Kiss (De kus) and Any Way the Wind Blows respectively. This chronicle, obviously incomplete, highlights the diversity of Flemish Belgian cinema. Viewers rarely feel they have seen the same film twice. Of course, there are films about peasants and castles, and comedies… But to say that these productions dominate the Flemish film landscape is an error of judgement and does not correspond with reality. It’s an image, a prejudice that in certain Belgian circles, among French-speakers in particular, still persists today.

Because of their origins, films based on literary works receive a great deal of attention in the press and also attract many more filmgoers to cinemas than, for example, the films of Guido Henderickx or Patrick Le Bon. But these still deserve to exist. And the productions of the 1990s are at the very least marked by literary sources. Filmmakers believe in their Flemish culture and its originality is sometimes even an asset. So Flemish Belgian cinema cannot be reduced to what one sees of it on the screen, and this disparity sometimes causes animated, even stormy discussions. If there is one constant during this period from 1964 to 2003, it is the call for the creation of an independent fund for cinema production. Without these debates, the Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF) would not exist today. The VAF has made possible the emergence of a new generation of directors and a renaissance of Flemish Belgian cinema, both at the local level and on the international scene, where its films are regularly garlanded with prizes.

23


interviews


Kadir balci 

°1970

After a degree in audiovisual arts, this native of Ghent travelled to England on an Erasmus exchange, where he made his graduation film. He trained there to be an assistant director before returning to Belgium where as an independent he made commercially commissioned films and music videos. He has just finished shooting Turquaze, his first feature film. —


2009 — Turquaze

Why did you become a film director?

One day on the set of Turquaze, when there was a journalist present, we were shooting a scene in a cemetery, and I said to my crew: “Should I tell him that when I was a little boy, at the age of eight, I saw in this same cemetery a film crew, and that I promised myself that one day I would shoot a film in this very same place?”… More seriously, the cinema is to my mind the best way of expressing feelings, because it literally allows them to be shown. But the real reason goes deeper than that. When I was little, at the end of each year my mother stuck all the drawings that my two brothers, my sister and I had done on a strip of paper. She rolled it around two sticks and stood behind a cardboard box for a TV that she had decorated, turned on a lamp and unrolled the strip. It was a bit like our own personal film show. I loved that. Later, when I was around 14 and had seen films that I had enjoyed, they would stay with me once the show had finished, and I saw them again and again in my dreams. My vocation as a filmmaker comes from all those moments, but only became concrete at university. I went to study Eastern languages and literature but realised that I was making a mistake, and that I needed to do something that used my mind, my unconscious. So I changed to film studies, and I quickly knew that I was in the right place. But your career in the cinema was almost that of an actor.

Purely by accident. At the time I was hanging out with friends who were a bit thuggish and I felt that I was on the point of going wrong, that I had to get out of that spiral. One day, I saw an advert looking for extras in a theatre play. I was hooked. I acted for six months and I told myself that I’d made the right choice: I was being paid, getting on with my studies and distancing myself from my mates, some of whom did indeed finish badly. It was a good experience, which carried on when the people from the theatre company and the drama school recommended me to 28


2009 — Turquaze

productions that needed Turkish actors for very small roles. The biggest was in The Only One, by a friend, Geoffrey Enthoven. I was with him when he was looking at the screen tests for Turkish actors to play a character, when the amusing idea occurred to him that I could play it. He insisted so much that I ended up by doing him that favour. If it happened again, I would accept, probably because it’s fun and educational, but my first vocation is to be a director. You went to shoot your graduation short film in England. Why not in Belgium?

During my second year of studies, I had an identity crisis. Having been born on the border between Flemish and Turkish cultures, I was never sure of being in the right place, of being considered as an individual rather than someone of a particular origin. It came on strongly during this period, when I had the impression that I was perceived above all as a Turk doing film studies in Belgium, that I was accepted as a foreigner, which put me in a very strange position since I felt just as Belgian as the other students. That crisis brought lots of different things to the surface, things which jumped out at me. In reaction to that, I decided to go to England. That did me a power of good, since it gave me a bit of distance from the questions that were troubling me. All the more so since England is a country where mixing, the integration of different cultures is more or less natural. During the six months I spent there, I was never asked because of my name whether I was Turkish, no one questioned my origins when I said that my father was going to come from Istanbul. This visit reversed my identity crisis, to the point that I came back much calmer, and stronger because from then on I was fully aware of what a cultural asset a double culture could be. Then, when it came to leaving, it was so painful and that obsessed me.

29


You have been speaking about your Turkish side, but how would you de­ fine your Belgian side?

It’s complicated to answer that, simply because there is no typically Belgian physical characteristic. You never hear someone say of a person that he is Belgian simply because of his appearance… I don’t always really know what it means to be Belgian, because people have always referred me back to this immigrant status. I have the impression that being Belgian is above all a question of feeling. It took me a very long time to accept that I was at the same time Belgian and Turkish. It’s partly that which led me to Turquaze, my first feature film. Its main character is a brass band musician of Turkish origin living in Ghent. He plays the Belgian national anthem with all his heart. Does that make him more or less Belgian than the others? Music is another important cultural medium in your work. You have made music videos: what does this form teach you, in terms of mise en scène and narrative?

The interesting thing about music videos is that they make it possible to tell a story while at the same time allowing you to remain abstract. Whatever audiovisual format you work in, the important thing is to be able to put yourself into it, to make it personal. Otherwise it can only be false, only be pretence. Even with a music video, you have to ask yourself fundamental questions: What am I trying to say? Why do it in this way? Music videos were not a huge learning experience for me from a narrative point of view, but on form and style. To a certain extent it is a much more instructive way of learning editing and photography than direction, but since editing is an essential stage in the making of a film, that experience was useful to me just the same. In view of the way it is used in your short films, one could also consider that music was important to you thanks to its absolute universality.

That’s very true. I even think that it is the most universal medium, because it is the one that reaches you the most directly, the most immediately. Nothing compares to the intensity of emotion that music can produce. Moreover, it plays an important role in Turquaze, because it can cross borders and touch people. Making a Flemish brass band play pieces of Turkish folk music clearly has a strong meaning. Shooting these scenes is one of my best memories of making the film: all the members of the crew, whatever their origin, had sung these pieces to themselves for several days, and we were really together. It was as if, all at once, questions about where we came from and our differences were no longer as important as where we were going, together. You make a very particular use of music in Sweet Seventies: the pieces are played backwards and accompany Super 8 home movie images of the sort that all families make of their children. Together they suggest a pos­ sible reading of this short film being about the need to look back, to return to the source…

This is probably one of the undercurrents of my work. Everything that I write is linked to the past in one way or another. This short film has an odd resonance: these images are not of my childhood, but they feel like it, confronting me with my own memories. But that is also perhaps what I chose to retain of them: these sequences only show happy moments, without any conflict, because no-one ever 30


makes home movies of sad moments. I just tried to reorganise them in a collage that expressed nothing but emotions, without the support of a real narrative, because they lead viewers to make a comparison with their own memories. I’m convinced that good memories always rise to the surface. Coming back to the music, the most astonishing thing is that in general people don’t immediately realise that the music in Sweet Seventies has been reversed, they are convinced that it is a foreign music that they’ve never heard before, whereas in fact I used some Madonna. And so we return to the idea of identity…

Indeed. Even if I ask myself fewer questions about this today, something of it remains in my films: this idea of stepping back, of distance, of disjointed images, all of which permits me to see characters from different angles. I used these ideas a great deal in Turquaze… …Which you filmed in Belgium and in Turkey. I imagine that you want the film to be released in both countries, but do you have different expecta­ tions of how the two audiences will see your film?

This is clearly something that makes me very nervous: how will they react to the film? And particularly: which of the two audiences will be the most receptive to what I want to say with it? Taking this further leads to another question: what will the responses of the Belgian and Turkish audiences teach me about my own identity? Will that accentuate something or not? On the other hand, I have the feeling of being close to the new generations of both Belgian and Turkish directors, who are less preoccupied by their identities than a desire to be part of a cosmopolitan society. 2007 — Sweet Seventies (Zoete zeventig, short) 2008 — 180 (TV series, co-director) 2009 — Turquaze

31


Nic Balthazar  

°1964

Former film critic Nic Balthazar became a director for television before moving on to the cinema with Ben X, a significant local success in 2007 and a cult film abroad. Since then Balthazar has directed his first short film, The Big Ask, and is in preparation of a new short and a second feature. —


2007 — Ben X

Why did you become a film director?

I’m reminded of what Godard said about film critics, that they are soldiers who shoot at their own regiments. I was the complete cliché of a film critic. Once I realised that I didn’t have the talent to be the best actor, I decided to switch to directing. When you notice, at the age of 20, that this isn’t as easy as it seems, you go over to the other side by becoming a critic. I did that for seven or eight years, until the day when, in the middle of the Cannes Film Festival, I saw myself becoming like my older colleagues, thinking that the job was more interesting in the past, that the films were better. I started to ask myself whether I was in the right place. Afterwards I branched off into television, where I worked on cultural programmes, then on a travel programme, for which I learned how to direct. Ben X started out as a book rather than a film…

It’s an odd story. Following my work on TV, I was asked to write a book which would reach out to young people considered unresponsive to reading. My eye fell upon the true story of a 17-year-old, because he had been bullied at school. That book worked very well, to the point that it became a play that also had considerable success. It became evident that this story appealed to all audiences. From there, it was easy to find a producer willing to make a film out of it. Between the book, the play and the film, which artistic form do you think was the most appropriate for telling this story?

Ben X is the absolute proof that the cinema is the art of all arts. I know that the play was better than the book and the film was better than the play, simply because you don’t work alone on a play, even though in this case it was put on with a reduced team, since only one actor was on stage. You’re even less alone on a film. In cinema, you work with several talented people at the same time, and they strengthen what you want to say. It really was a pleasure to be there, among people who were dedicated to a story. What’s more, the methods of the cinema allowed me to realise the story in the way I always imagined it: a narrative in the style of Rain Man, but with the person with autism as the subject rather than object; in some sense a Rain Man recounted by the Rain Man himself. Only cinema gives you the possibility of describing the world we live in through the eyes of someone else. I think it’s for that reason that films on mental illness are so inter-

34


2007 — Ben X

esting. The Eighth Day, for example, changed forever the way I look at people with Down’s syndrome. My secret goal was to achieve the same result for autism. Do you see a link between autism, which is a sort of world of its own, and the cinema, which for critics is often a way of living vicariously?

Yes and no. One of the misunderstandings about autism is thinking that the sufferer is closed, that they don’t take an interest in the world. It’s often the reverse: they absorb so much of the world around them that they are overloaded with information and emotions. The cinema is a perfect way to make that state felt, fully recreating it with sounds and images in a movie theatre. The title Ben X is a phonetic version of ‘ben niks’, which in Flemish means ‘I’m nothing’. From that, one wonders if the film is just about autism. The lead character could equally have been gay, physically disabled or some­ thing else.

It’s clear to me that Ben X is not a film exclusively about that subject. Without being didactic, it talks about everyone who is different in a society that is increasingly uniform, where it is always more difficult to find your place when you are out of the ordinary, in particular when you are young. But to my mind autism was the perfect symbol for this difference. It is said that autism is a sort of deficiency in the capacity to empathise. You only have to open any daily newspaper to see to what extent we live in a world which suffers from the same problem. We are living in an autistic society.

35


You have incorporated a very contemporary way of seeing things into this film, for example in approaching the question of virtual reality through a video game. Rain Man completely neglected that dimension.

Using that game contributed to the success of the film, since Ben X was essentially aimed at an adolescent audience, 50% or more of whom live in a social context linked by computers. Most people over 25 don’t realise, but it is no longer possible to ignore the impact that video games and their conventions are going to have on the next generation. That has absolutely no connection with the world of my adolescence. Nevertheless, we wanted to show by the characters’ immersion in a video game that there are not only dangers in this world – even if they are obvious to me – but that gaming also opens up possibilities for poetry. It’s not a question of condemning it. Besides that, I think that today Ben X is still the only film to have incorporated­ MMORPG (Massively Multi-player On-line Role Playing Games) in its narrative, even though kids are more and more taken by these network games. I was delighted to read in “Empire” that it was strange having to wait for a little Belgian film for this cultural phenomenon to be taken into consideration by the cinema. Today video games are beginning to supplant films for numerous teenag­ ers. Were you particularly apprehensive about the idea of dramatising a video game, having to juggle the rules of that medium with those of the cinema?

I was inspired by the machinimas, the animated films that young people make today from video games. It was odd to introduce the innovation of a virtual set into a very low-tech film, yet it was amazingly simple: we started with an existing Korean video game and the actors became players. We could easily have taken the logic of the MMOPRG to its conclusion by filming images of a game bringing together one player in his living room in Cincinnati, while the other was in Johannesburg. It was really a director’s dream. I had everything at my fingertips, literally using the mouse as a camera. I created and clothed the avatar of Ben X myself, and I looked for locations in that virtual world. A bit of creative editing on top of that, and everything was settled. You shouldn’t underestimate the people who create video games, they are getting better and better in terms of narrative, but also in handling emotions. Pressing Apple+alt and another key to make a character gasp for breath or kneel down creates quite tangible feelings. It’s like being a puppeteer, but in a digital way. But this is just the beginning. For the American remake of Ben X the technology will have evolved so much that we will be able to move on to even more spectacular things. There are already signs of that with series such as Red & Blue or the ever more polished machinimas which appear on-line every day on YouTube. As a former critic, how did you find the welcome that Ben X received from the press?

First there was a festival welcome. At Montreal we won the Grand Prize, the Public Prize and the one given by the ecumenical jury. That meant that the film had grabbed people, and also that its message had been understood. That always causes concern with the critics, particularly when they stick to a line which says that, on one side, there are films for multiplexes which they find idiotic, and on the other, there is auteur cinema which they see as profound art. When I was a critic, I was already tired of that separation. I wanted to make a film that combined the 36


two, but that complicated the marketing and also the reception from a press always distrustful of message films. I knew from the beginning that Ben X would be difficult for the critics. Hence my great surprise when we won a FIPRESCI prize in Istanbul, then seeing the differences between the reviews from country to country. Even so, there were broadly two camps: those who loved the film and those who hated it. Which is fine with me. Mixed reviews would have annoyed me. It was only the French critics who made me angry, because as so often happens two articles set the tone, in this case those of “Le Monde” and “Libération”. They read the film as packed with the sort of good Catholic sentiment to which they are allergic, yet there’s no-one more anti-clerical than me in Western Europe. And the rest of the press amiably followed them along that path. They only just avoided making the film a platform for Opus Dei! I was really fed up and I soon realised that, all of a sudden, we were dead commercially. And Ben X really didn’t work at all in France. Now you are working on the American remake of Ben X. What do you expect from that?

I’m more curious than anything else. It’s a challenge, but at the moment there is nothing to say that it will come about, even though it has got off to a good start. My American agent told me: “It’s a film that has a 30% chance of finding an audience… Which is enormous!” (laughs). So while that’s too good to abandon the project, it’s still not enough to start building a swimming pool in a Beverly Hills villa. In fact, the most complicated thing will not be making the film again, but ensuring that it is correctly marketed by the producers. But between the growing community of gamers, the upsurge of violence in schools and the soaring suicide rate among American teenagers, we should be able to get there. Curiously, the story of Ben X is so in tune with American society at the moment that I’ve changed very little in the scenario for the remake. In any case, the miracle of Ben X is not whether or not we complete this remake. I’ve received an immense amount of mail from teachers saying that they have the impression that the film, used as a teaching aid, has changed their pupils’ views on autism and classroom violence. Even if it is only for five minutes, the fact that a film was able to have that effect delights me. It allows me to believe a little longer that, yes, art can change the world. 2007 — Ben X 2008 — The Big Ask (short) 2009 — The Big Ask 2 (short)

37


2007 — Ben X


Kaat Beels 

°1974

Kaat Beels’ graduation short from Sint Lukas Academy, Bedtime Stories, launched her career by winning several festival awards. Afterwards she worked in television, before creating her own production company, for which she has made both short films and documentaries. Beels is currently preparing to shoot Swooni, her first feature film. —


2004 — Cologne

Why did you become a film director?

If I only knew… (laughs). I suppose that it’s linked to my relationship with cinema when I was a child. I discovered the power of films, capable of submerging you in emotions, of taking you into another world. With childish naivety I convinced myself that I could get directly into this other world simply by making films. Of course, today I know that’s not true. Although, when doing research, both for my fiction films and documentaries, I’ve still got close to realities other than my own, with which I would never have been in contact if I had not become a director. When I was little, the cinema was a way of escaping my daily life. Today it has become a chance to discover the lives of other people. You have worked in lots of different areas: fiction, documentary, TV se­ ries, video art…

…Oh, you want to talk about the video about Hiroaki Umeda [editor’s note: a Japanese dancer]. It was a study project in the context of a festival. It ended up on the internet, but really that’s just something small on the side… …These are styles where the filmmaking process involves different nar­ rative conventions according to the medium used.

The starting point for all that is very pragmatic: I have to be able to earn a living at the same time as I develop film projects. In Belgium, most TV fiction is made up of clichés, and working on that didn’t interest me very much. So I turned towards documentary which, for me, is based as much on the desire to recount something as fiction, but with the difference that it starts with real people. Evidently, the work-

42


ing method is not the same. Sometimes you are in a team of only two people while on TV productions there are 30 of you, but the principle remains the same: how to tell a story. Going from one style to another was rather beneficial for me, particularly because in both cases something that I was doing initially to pay the rent became personally enriching. I get the feeling that this is a priority in your work. What comes through, whether you are filming a Le Corbusier building in La maison du Fada or Umeda dancing, is this search for a meeting, for a contact with others, for this enrichment.

That’s a very theoretical way of seeing my films, but it is correct that they are guided by my feelings towards what I’m filming. In any case, people with personalities that are a bit out of the ordinary are always singled out by the camera. When you start to film someone and you can’t stop, it’s a good sign, it shows that something interesting is coming from the person in front of the lens. The fiction process is clearly another approach, because you are looking to control things beforehand. Documentary takes place much more through a wave of emotion prompted by what you film and which takes the story by the hand. You are there for three or four weeks, day after day trying to capture something of a real situation. Obviously you don’t know right away which direction to go in, until a moment when it suddenly becomes clear. However, your documentaries are as much about people as their particu­ lar contexts.

All the films that I make are more or less about the human condition. I’m not a documentary maker who films landscapes. The human element is evidently central to the stories that I want to tell, but it is obviously linked to the places where people live. I don’t know if it is a coincidence, but Swooni, the fiction feature that I’m working on, takes place in a hotel, which is at once a particular building and a place of transit… In the case of La maison du Fada, we went there without really knowing where the film would lead us. It was such a strange place. What’s more, we filmed in the summer, while the majority of people were on holiday. Finding a common thread was difficult, until we decided to tell several stories, as if this building was an immense body and its inhabitants were the blood vessels. It is not out of the question that this structure unconsciously led me to Swooni, which is not so very different. In any case, I’ve always been fascinated by hotels, because they are places which draw in so many lives and different histories. When you open the door to a hotel room, you can begin to think you are someone else, because you are in a context that is not your own. There is something similar with cinema: it’s a way of opening doors to lives we fantasise about. Which to a certain extent is also the subject of Cologne and Bruxelles, mon amour: people who dream of a life that they cannot have.

The fact that you can only have one life is one of my greatest frustrations. I’d easily swap one long life for seven shorter ones, if only to see what it would be like to live a different life from the one I know, to experience things that I can never do in my life. I’m a director, but I would love to know what I would do, what I would experience if I was an architect, for example. It’s clearly a theme which haunts me, which will always be at the heart of my films. I have no idea why the idea obsesses me.

43


2004 — Cologne

This notion of frustration is present in Cologne and Bruxelles, mon amour, but it is different when you film, in one case, from a woman’s point of view, and in the other, from that of a man.

I made Bruxelles, mon amour nine years ago and I’ve never seen it since. I would probably be quite surprised. Mainly I remember conceiving it as a sentimental journey for this man, who wants to reconnect with his past. Cologne is about a woman who cannot be with the man she loves, because he is already involved with someone else, and is almost in another life. Cologne is more in phase with my aspirations, particularly in terms of directing and what I hope to continue in Swooni. I was still young when I made Bruxelles, mon amour. I still didn’t have a very clear idea of how I wanted to stage things. From film to film, between the documentaries and then Cologne, it is still not entirely clear, but I have the feeling that I am getting closer. You are forgetting one stage in your career: apart from documentaries and short films, you have just made several episodes of the TV series Jes. That is a different exercise again, if only because it allows you to weave stories together over a long period of time.

That was really a professional boost. Working on a TV series teaches you how to move quickly, whether on set or while writing. On the one hand, it is the medium in which it is hardest to be yourself. It’s practically forbidden. You have to go through so many intermediaries, whether within the production or the channel that will broadcast the show… And everyone has an opinion on what you are doing, with sometimes contradictory expectations and demands. You have no idea how much I hope I will have to make fewer personal compromises on my feature film than on that series… Make no mistake, I knew in advance that it would be like that, but the pay-off was that I would have an experience that would significantly advance my professional development. It’s just that there was a price to pay. I only hope that my film will be more in tune with my decisions and what I want to express with them. With a series, everything is decided through winning or losing battles with the team. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s hard.

44


2004 — Cologne

Is your desire not to compromise, to keep a certain amount of control over your work, what led you to be both scriptwriter and director of your films?

On Jes we worked in a pool of six writers. That’s a comfortable way of doing things but it didn’t suit me. I’d really love to discover a script written by someone else which suited me, but for the moment that hasn’t happened. And then it is also a question of money: it’s cheaper to be your own scriptwriter. At the moment I’m developing a project that I’m writing myself. I’m doing that more from necessity than because I want to, and I know that I was born more to be a director than a writer, that’s my real reason for being. Writing is really a difficult phase, because I’m aware that I lack writing technique. On the other hand, by writing myself I can better imagine the film that I want to make, since I know where it has come from. With someone else’s script I would certainly need more time to understand what it is about, deep down. I have a rather ambiguous relationship with the idea of working from material developed by someone else. As much as I think that would be a very useful support, it would be just as likely that I would hate the fact that it hadn’t come from me (laughs)! 1997 — Bedtime Stories (short) 2000 — Bruxelles, mon amour (short) 2004 — Cologne (short) 2005 — La maison du Fada (documentary) 2007 — The Night of Architecture (six experimental shorts) 2009 — Jes (TV series) 2010 — Swooni

45


Brosens  & woodworth  °1962

°1972

Documentary makers Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth met in Mongolia, where each was working on a film devoted to the country. It was there that they co-directed their first fiction film together, Khadak. Three years – and several prizes – later, they have just returned from Peru where they have shot their second fiction film, Altiplano. —


47


2009 — Altiplano

Why did you become film directors?

Even though I feel as if it’s been in my blood since I was little, I came to it a bit by chance. I’m from a family of academics and I studied science, anthropology, and I did urban development in South America before finding myself in Mongolia, where I took up filmmaking. jessica woodworth : For me it came from a certain necessity. I started by making news reports, then independent documentaries, before meeting Peter, with whom I co-directed our first fiction film. peter brosens :

Going to Mongolia for a first feature film is an unexpected choice. What attracted you to this country? J.W. : I’m the daughter of a diplomat who specialised in nuclear disarmament between the Americans and the Soviets. In the mid-1990s I was living in China. I set foot in Mongolia for the first time in 1995 and I was fascinated by its post-Soviet side. The mixture of political symbols there and the gentleness of the people struck me immediately. I shot my first independent documentary there. P.B. : I landed in Mongolia in 1993, not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I knew absolutely nothing of the country, where I stayed for four months. At the same time as I was trying to understand this place, which was still unencumbered by a new socio-political system, I was filming Ulan Bator with my little video camera. From

48


these images came my first documentary, City of the Steppes, which won a prize at the Cinéma du Réel festival in Paris, before being selected for Venice. I stayed in Mongolia, where I worked for thirteen years on four other films. After so much time, you end up knowing lots of people there. J.W. : At first, we researched a documentary on aviation and socialism. After seven weeks of fieldwork with pilots, we found ourselves on the central square of Ulan Bator one fine day and we looked at each other and decided that it was impossible to bring back just one 52-minute film. It would diminish all the stories we had heard. We had to take the step towards fiction in order to have the freedom of interpreting reality. So we launched ourselves into writing Khadak. It was difficult because, up until then, our work had been intuitive. To nurture that writing we spent a year going for long walks, during which we talked. That was how the structure of the film was born. In what way did fiction allow you to speak about Mongolia better than a documentary?

I’m sure that you are closer to reality with fiction. There are too many ethical and moral constraints in documentary. We both realised this in our previous films. What’s more, if you want to arrive at a sophisticated cinematographic language, or quite simply respect the stories and anecdotes that these pilots had entrusted to us, you need time. You don’t have that when you have to deliver a documentary produced by several TV channels who have it in mind for a broad audience. For Khadak, as with Altiplano, we needed to develop visual subtleties. J.W. :

How can you find that kind of freedom when the cinema always experien­ ces limitations, whether economic or technical? J.W. : From the first day on set in Mongolia, we found a natural rhythm based on filming only what was necessary. We often shot only one take. The crew thought that we were reckless, while in fact we were very clear in our approach. Besides, we finished shooting Khadak three weeks earlier than expected. With Altiplano we came back from Peru two weeks ahead of schedule. We did encounter other constraints, such as shooting with lots of extras, extreme weather conditions, or political concerns with the locals that complicate life. But coming from documentary, we have a real capacity to adapt to the daily reality of a shoot. We only have one obligation: to respect our intuition and develop valid thematic lines of enquiry.

In this sort of situation, is it an advantage or a further constraint to direct together?

An advantage. We share the same tastes, we are touched by the same things at the same time… It is difficult to explain, but we know immediately whether or not what we are writing or filming works. There were times when I had to take an immediate decision while Peter wasn’t there beside me, knowing that he would agree. That goes both ways. There is something intimate, intense in our way of working as a couple, but never tension.

J.W.  :

Khadak was shot in Mongolia, Altiplano in Peru, places that perhaps con­ vey something fantastic or exotic to the minds of people who have never set foot there. Does that annoy you?

No, in the sense that if our films try to reflect a reality it is only our vision of things. The economic, social and political reality and the conflicts in the places

J.W. :

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2006 — Khadak

where we film inspire our cinema, but we are neither anthropologists nor journalists. These two films are very subjective interpretations, in which one can grasp moments of authenticity because they were born of real events, for example in Altiplano a mercury leak in a village in northern Peru, during an accident in 2000. What does that mean ‘elsewhere’? We are all touched by the same problems. From this point of view the world is very small. In contrast, the question of our responsibility as storytellers comes up regularly. It comes through in the aesthetic approach, which is very strong in your films.

It is fundamental to our cinema. On Khadak, it allowed us to knit together several themes in a fundamentally simple story, but also to respect the people we filmed, their rhythm of life. It is important to find the freedom necessary to be able to discover how to embody in time and movement what we want to express. While our language is fundamentally visual, we give as much importance to sound. One year before filming Altiplano we were already developing approaches with our sound designer. He does such an important job that we even decided to invent a new title: director of sound. J.W. :

What have films such as Khadak and Altiplano taught you about your­ selves?

That every day should be a discovery. duty as filmmakers, or as storytellers, is to ask questions, not necessarily to give answers. There is a terrible lack of mystery in contemporary cinema. That’s what guides our artistic approach, to the point that it becomes our reason for being. J.W. : From now on we need to have that groundwork, to listen to people, to learn their language. This work is our cinematic approach, it allows us to get in touch with a form of universality. J.W. :

P.B. : Our

Would you say that your films have an educational aim, to teach people about the places where you film? J.W. : No, not necessarily. We have been touched by the grace of what we were filming and we hope to communicate that, but that’s not in an educational capacity. We don’t want to evoke the facts, but emotions that are rarely experienced. For

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example, in prayer or in moments of inspiration, things which touch a spiritual mystery, which are lost in the collective memory. It’s not a question, for example, of condemning the mining company which was the source of the mercury leak in Altiplano. It is easy to find information on the internet about industrial tragedies like the situation in certain Peruvian villages devastated by mining. P.B. : It’s not our job to denounce them. We use the cinema for its ability to evoke things, to go in the direction of experiment rather than demonstration. We know from the numerous letters that we receive that there is a receptive audience for this, but we are also well aware that our films speak to viewers with a certain level of openness. Some people find themselves disconcerted by the last half hour of Khadak because it goes into a spiritual dimension. Is it because they continue to practice certain rituals that you filmed the shamen in Mongolia or the Quechua Indians in Peru?

The rational and the visible dictate the content of the majority of stories in cinema today. In Khadak and Altiplano, it is the irrational and the invisible. That’s what interests us: the unspoken, the imperceptible, because that’s something that we’ve lost. Added to that is a particular way of life. The conditions in which we shot Khadak were harsh (in winter, -35°C at an altitude of 5000m), but it would have made no sense to film in the summer months because we would not have been able to recreate the feelings of that story. We are not looking for sensationalism or extreme conditions: we are looking for the right setting, in harmony with the story we want to tell or the emotions we want to express. It was in winter that we discovered Mongolia, so that season corresponds with our definition of the country. P.B. : We hope we aren’t seen as “the pair of filmmakers who go to the furthest corners of the earth”. That has nothing to do with our approach. It’s not the places that fascinate us, but the people. We could film next door to where we live, and we do have some ideas in development for filming in Europe… J.W. : …Nevertheless there must be an unknown side… P.B. : …We want to go to Albania, a place which is at once close yet represents another world. J.W. :

Peter Brosens Jessica Woodworth 1993 —The Path of Time (documentary) 1999 — Urga Song (documentary) 1994 — City of the Steppes (documentary) 2001 — The Virgin Diaries (documentary) 1998 — State of Dogs (documentary) 2006 — Khadak 1999 — Poets of Mongolia (documentary) 2009 — Altiplano 2006 — Khadak 2009 — Altiplano

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2009 — Altiplano


vanja d’alcantara 

°1977

With a degree in history and a master in film direction, Vanja d’Alcantara took her first steps as a director with La tercera vida, a documentary about a woman who had spent most of her life in a Spanish prison. After Granitsa, a short film, she is working on Steppes, her first feature film, inspired by her family history. —


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2006 — Granitsa

Why did you become a film director?

The cinema allows you to be spread out and concentrated at the same time. It’s a common thread which gives you the freedom to linger over other things, to be part of life, including being creative. What appeals to me most is meeting people, human exchanges. It is practically my reason for living. Apart from writing, which is a more solitary process, the conception of a film, from the preparation to its release, puts you in permanent contact with other people. For me, filmmaking starts with the desire to share an encounter. I find that the process is just as important as the result. When I was making La tercera vida I really asked myself why I was doing it. The answer was immediate: to share with others what I had experienced in meeting this woman. The same for Granitsa, which is clearly a mixture of personal stories, but which has as its subject an exchange between two people who meet, however fleetingly. Nevertheless, in the beginning you studied this ‘more solitary process’, with a programme of writing…

Initially I started studying history. I always wanted to make films, but since I passed my baccalaureate at seventeen I had enough time to spare to look around first. So I spent two years studying history before going to film school, where I started work on La tercera vida, for which I received a scholarship. With that I went to New York for a year and a half, and it was there that I specialised in scriptwriting. In Europe, there is an enormous amount of respect for authors, so they can free things up in order to get connected with the rest of the world and its personality. The advantage of the US is that you can find the tools there to achieve that, particularly when it comes to scripts. It works like a plumbing school: you learn how to use the techniques of writing, to connect them up. The best thing is that afterwards you can use them in any way you like. These assets also allow you to put certain teachings to one side and come back to them later. It helped a great deal to know that, in cases of emergency, I could depend on these tools. To know that they were at my disposal, so that I could make everything that I wanted to relate accessible.

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Nevertheless, one doesn’t use the same writing tools for documentary and fiction. Why did you start your career with a documentary?

Because it just happened that way (laughs). A journalist friend in Spain was doing a story for “El País” on prisoners. At the time I talked to her, I was developing the idea of making portraits of women around the world. This friend told me about the woman she had met and a week later I was there with a camera. At heart I’m neither a journalist nor an analyst. I like stories to come to me, as was the case with La tercera vida, because you end up working with a set of realities that have to be developed. To a certain extent, this documentary work allowed me to understand certain mechanisms of fiction. I’ve always wanted to make fiction, but I would like to keep a foot in documentary. Coming back to the idea of exchanges, La tercera vida, Granitsa and Steppes, the film you work on, all draw on cultural exchanges which take place in countries other than your own. Is that intentional?

I don’t know why, but at this moment I find my stories elsewhere. It will probably happen eventually, but I don’t see myself making a film that takes place in Brussels. It comes back to this idea of the encounter: I’ve always loved travelling, making contact with other people. Perhaps that also comes from my education in a European school, surrounded by different languages, or from a desire to push beyond my limits by confronting the unknown. Plenty of authors draw on their immediate surroundings for their writing; at the moment, I see my everyday life in this other world. Even so, whatever you do in the arts, you are always talking about yourself. My films reveal something about my mixed identity: a Polish mother, a father with Franco-Spanish-Flemish roots. It appears in these journeys. I feel at home in lots of places and I think that I need to experience that, to keep moving and, even if it is a cliché, to be a citizen of the world. Is it that which brings a strong evocative sense to your films, whether through not subtitling the Russian spoken in Granitsa or giving space to typical landscapes, charged with a culture or history?

I feel as if I am part of a whole: there are nearly seven billion of us on a small planet, but constantly on the move. In English, Granitsa means “frontier”. The principle of eliminating frontiers allows you to be yourself in the most fundamental way. When you are taken out of your social context completely, you are no more than a person, here and now. That has a very liberating side and of course encourages encounters. I like to know a person’s history, whether I meet them for a couple of hours, even the time it takes to have a coffee, or if I’ve known them for 15 years. I’m fascinated by where they come from, where they are going, what has become of them. It’s constantly inspiring because it carries a touch of reality. You can discover marvellous landscapes living alone at the top of a mountain, but also in pure moments of exchange with other people. Yes, but the places that you film have almost as much significance as the people …

… Absolutely. An encounter happens in the context of its setting. The connection with the place where you are, whether in the country or in a town, contributes to the quality of the exchange, of what one is going to pass on. But it is also a way of escaping the banality of everyday life.

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2009 — Steppes

The natural settings that you have chosen are expansive, while the stories that you film are very intimate. It is as if you were searching constantly for a confrontation between the exterior and interior of things.

That’s exactly what Steppes is about: the story of a woman who is deported to the furthest reaches of Central Asia. She will be confronted with a hostile natural environment while making a very intimate journey. She will waver between her painful personal history and the presence of nature which is at once a threat and a consolation. As a human being, I like to move over these lands, to find myself in these places which feed my inner self, whether that’s New York or hiking in the Vanoise. If, as I believe, Granitsa achieves a sort of authenticity it’s because instead of hiring a train and filming lots of return trips to nowhere in particular, we said to ourselves: let’s go and film on the Trans-Siberian. And that produces another encounter, with a producer with whom you discuss beforehand the resources that will best serve the film that you are about to make, and stay in tune with the initial idea. Having a limited budget can therefore be a sort of blessing, because while staying true to yourself, it allows you to concentrate on the essential, the smallest common de58


nominator. The more you get into the details, the more you deal with the intimate, the more universal it becomes. In a film, I don’t have a thousand things to say, but just one. There are minimal but effective ways of doing that, such as focusing my camera on a woman’s face in a fantastic natural landscape. Why make too much of it, why exaggerate? Steppes will be you first feature film, which implies that it will be seen differently from a documentary like La tercera vida and a short film like Granitsa. Are you apprehensive about that?

Steppes takes place in the 1940s, but it won’t be a period drama, I want to leave the way open when it comes to possible interpretations of the film, which should be the most universal possible. Relative to Granitsa, the approach will inevitably be different because I could not risk such a tenuous plot over an hour and a half, where a short film of 20 minutes would be enough. My desire to go from a short film to a feature is partly because of a certain frustration with the amount of energy and heart invested in Granitsa, when its ultimate visibility was very limited. If for no other reason, I had to move on to a feature film. Yes, it takes longer to put together, it’s another sort of struggle, the organisation is much more arduous than for a short film, but it remains a magnificent adventure. You are obliged to ask different, deeper questions. Even so I know that you have to leave room for the natural magic of events when you are shooting. Every day, I was astonished to see things falling into place, pushing me to bring into being a story that I proposed one day on a scrap of paper. 2005 — La tercera vida (documentary) 2006 — Granitsa (short) 2009 — Steppes

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geoffrey enthoven 

°1974

After an initial short film, Geoffrey Enthoven produced and edited films directed by his friends, before being commissioned to make a documentary that ended up becoming his first feature film, Children of Love. Two more features followed, The Only One and Happy Together, then episodes of the mini-series Sara. Enthoven recently delivered his fourth feature, The Over the Hill Band. —


2002 — Children of Love

Why did you become a film director?

Because I couldn’t decide what choice to make. The arts have always interested me, as have people and their stories. I wasn’t really a film fan. I liked music and painting at least as much. But the cinema seemed to me to be a way of bringing them all together. As my films advance, I’m realising that it’s my interest in people that gets the upper hand, and the cinema is just a way of giving shape to the desire to tell their stories. That feeling was already there with what should have been my first film, a commissioned documentary on the children of divorced parents. For legal reasons I couldn’t use the testimony of the people that I wanted to include in this film, so I said to myself that I had to use the material that I had collected in the course of my research in a fiction. I was pushed down that road by the Dogme movement, launched at around the same time. I didn’t have much money or resources at my disposal, and the movement created by Lars von Trier seemed to me like a motivating factor, allowing me to question what my priorities were in a film: people and their stories. Your first three films have an Anglo-Saxon approach to their social as­ pects. Do you acknowledge this influence?

When I embarked on the idea of transforming my documentary into fiction I only had one film in mind, one which had particularly touched me when I saw it: Wonderland by Michael Winterbottom. It served as my model for Children of Love. I’m still very influenced by certain films of Ken Loach, above all Family Life, as well as Secrets and Lies by Mike Leigh. This doesn’t stop me adoring filmmakers such as Michael Mann and David Lynch. So, without going so far as to acknowledge an English influence, I can see my own position in their view of certain social classes, in that desire to affirm that we are all equal. Paradoxically, lots of people in Germany and the Netherlands thought that The Only One, my second film, was very close to French cinema. While in Flanders, at the time Children of Love came out, the press wrote that, with this film, this part of the country had found its own Dardenne brothers (laughs).

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2006 — The Only One

Why this attachment to social realism?

It depends on the story that I want to tell. Happy Together is tied up with social themes, but I worked on a different, very stylised visual approach. This would have struck the wrong note for Children of Love. The script comes first, and it’s only afterwards that I think about what form I’m going to give to it. I don’t think that I’m particularly tied cinematographically to social realism. In contrast, your films all show characters who are at a key moment in their lives, in a period of crisis…

Because those are the moments that touch me. Also because they are connected with a subject that concerns me: lack of communication. I sometimes have romantic notions which lead me to believe that one can say what one thinks to anybody, while in reality that’s impossible. People sometimes have to change their ideas, even their deepest natures, in order to communicate with others. The central character in Happy Together does everything to appear like the perfect man, even though that doesn’t correspond to who he is. I am very touched by the duality that is in all of us, precisely because it also exists in me. Making films on that subject is a way of self-development. Do your films express your own feelings, your own disquiet concerning social codes, the pigeonholes in which people are placed?

Before I made Happy Together, yes. Now, much less so. I’m much more at ease with social diktats than when I started. Although Children of Love was commissioned, I could easily see myself in that film. I’m a child of divorced parents myself. But I didn’t at all want to draw on my own experience or reflect it. I read-up about it a great deal, I did a lot of research on the subject. The same with The Only One. Before making it I worked on numerous scripts which, lacking financial support, were not made into films, so they said to me: Why don’t you do something in the same spirit as Children of Love, since that was a success? So to write it, I partially drew on my own fear of becoming old and of no longer being respected. If Happy Together is different, the idea having come from the producer, I had at the time just crossed the line of being 30, and so I was in a period of existential crisis, in

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2008 — Happy Together

part confirmed by media pressure. Advertisers and newspapers tell you that the period between 30 and 35 is the ideal time of life. Before that age they make you believe that when you reach your thirties you will be completely fulfilled, and that afterwards you will feel nothing but nostalgia for your youth. Curiously your first three feature films tackle the three ages of life, although out of order: childhood, old age and finally the thirties.

It’s true, but above all these films are about inter-generational relationships. In Children of Love, I was explaining that one never recovers from one’s childhood. The Only One talks about a clash between adults, when they become parents, with their own parents. It was partly a way of saying, through the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, that it is sometimes necessary to skip a generation in order to get along. Myself, when I became an adult at the end of my studies, I couldn’t stand seeing teenagers because I’d just come through that age. Happy Together is different from the other two because I’m almost part of the same generation as the main character, who is approaching his forties. I need to be a bit detached from my characters, to have a minimum of distance. It would be much too difficult to talk about someone totally in phase with what I’m experiencing. Having children, for example, has changed me profoundly. I can no longer watch news bulletins when it’s a question of abused children. Before, it didn’t cause me any problems: I felt a certain sadness, but I wasn’t affected in the same way that I

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am now that I’ve become a father. My films express my fascination with the idea of the family, especially in a society like that in Flanders where family life has never been a central preoccupation. I think it’s something that is returning, but for my parents’ generation those relationships were practically non-existent and people were more individualist. At one point you were going to make Cut Loose, a film dealing with immi­ gration, another socially strong subject…

The producers thought that I was the right director to make this film, before finally deciding on a filmmaker they thought would be more popular, guaranteeing them a minimum audience. I enjoyed the book on which Cut Loose is based. I can see there a parallel between the clash of the generations at the centre of my previous films and the couple at the centre of this story. The workings seemed to me to be quite close, even more so because of a parallel intrigue between the central character and his grandfather, who wants to commit suicide. I think that the producers were afraid that I wouldn’t make a film with broad appeal, that I would pull it more towards auteur cinema. It’s a shame because I would have really liked to have worked on the love story that drives the novel. I think that with The Over the Hill Band, my new feature, I will be able to place myself between the two. To be able to reach a broad public with a story that resembles arthouse cinema. Since Happy Together, even if the world of Belgian cinema doesn’t yet believe it, I think I’m more open, notably to putting more humour in my films. Before, I was rather fascinated by the aesthetics of miserablism in the cinema. Of course, I’m not going to recant, nor say that there is so much misery in the world that one shouldn’t put any in films, but I think that the simple fact of being able to laugh at certain subjects, even a little, doesn’t stop you being in phase with a certain realism. I’m convinced that if I remade Happy Together today, now that I’m over the existential doubts of my thirties, I’d put much more humour in it. At the time, my ambition was to make a film somewhere between Michael Mann and Michael Haneke. I think that The Over the Hill Band is a bit lighter than my previous films, perhaps because I’m inspired by my present, my life with my children, who often make me laugh. There’s a 90% chance that in treating serious subjects too seriously you will make heavy, sad films… I believe that I’m in the process of evolving on this point… (laughs). 1999 — The Undertaker (De aanspreker, short) 2002 — Children of Love (Les enfants de l’amour) 2006 — Sara (TV series, co-director) 2006 — The Only One (Vidange perdu) 2008 — Happy Together 2009 — The Over the Hill Band (Meisjes)

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2008 — Happy Together


johan grimonprez 

°1962

After studying at the school for visual arts in Brussels and the Whitney Museum in New York, Johan Grimonprez made Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, a film essay which went on to be presented in the most prestigious centres of contemporary art. Numerous installations followed, when he wasn’t himself curating exhibitions. His short film Looking for Alfred became one of the principle inspirations for Double Take, a film on the media presence of Alfred Hitchcock. —


Why did you become a film director?

That question is an integral part of my work. In it I try to define what cinema is, and push that definition as far as it will go. That’s particularly true insofar as my films are dependent upon their destination. They are used in different ways according to whether they are designed for an installation, for an exhibition or for the cinema. Above all I try to bring out different themes, questions that appeal to me personally. At the moment I love questioning the act of watching TV by putting it into another context. Double Take questions the perceptual relationship between cinema and television. In the same way Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y was intended to demonstrate that the arrival of CNN and MTV changed attitudes to the aesthetics of cinema and its relationship with temporality, changing the course of the cinema of the 1970s in the 1980s. It is tempting to see you as an experimental filmmaker. What difference do you see between 'classic' cinema and your own work?

Double Take was screened at the Pompidou Centre in Paris during the Cinéma du Réel festival. It was in a real cinema, but which was in a museum of contemporary art. My films tend to have a familiar form, with a beginning, a middle and an end, even if, as Godard said, they are not necessarily in that order. In any case, I say something in them in a structured way, I leave time for the elements to be understood. That remains cinema, and not advertising, where that relationship with time is totally forgotten. With its form and length, the average for a feature film, Double Take was evidently conceived for the cinema. Did that affect your approach?

No. I love the idea that a film can be shown on several different platforms. Double Take will appear on TV in Germany, because it was co-produced by ZDF and Arte. It is currently being shown in an exhibition in New York. I would even be delighted if it were to be shown on American TV channels where it would be cut up by adverts, because each means of showing it in itself allows a recontextualisation. The central figure in Double Take is Alfred Hitchcock, such a symbolic filmmaker. Why that choice?

Double Take was in fact born of another film that I have yet to make, and for which I needed a Hitchcock impersonator. So I held a casting session in the course of which I met Ron Burrage, his official double, who has been playing him for 25 years. In fact, he practically began his career when the real Hitchcock died. That meeting set me thinking about Double Take. The life of this man is so bizarre, so full of coincidences. He worked as the lift attendant at Claridge’s Hotel in London, where Hitchcock stayed while he was working on a film project about the concentration camps. He then worked at the Savoy, where the director’s favourite restaurant was. I found it amusing that Ron’s life should be so bound up with the cinema, without that preventing him from making his own life from it. It was a perfect metaphor for describing the condition of an artist who must create his own space, while having to accept the fact that, today, it is the media that defines his status as an artist.

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2005 — Looking for Alfred

Hitchcock was conscious of his own image: he is the director who most often put himself in front of the camera…

I don’t think that there have been other directors who are as much of a media icon as him. You only have to see the number of books about him which continue to be published. They contribute to a sort of proliferation of his image, they create so many Hitchcock doubles. That’s without taking into account the TV programmes he made between 1956 and 1967. Very few episodes of Alfred Hitchcock were made by him, but he was omnipresent in this series, through their introductions and epilogues. He became an icon as much through the cinema as through TV, just as he saw the major transformations of cinema, from silent to talking films, from black and white to colour… And he passed from the English cinema to Hollywood. Up to the idea of appearing in each of his own films, Hitchcock’s career was marked by a sort of schizophrenia. Moreover, the idea of the double or mistaken identity of a character is a recurrent theme in his films. How do you explain Hitchcock becoming the most inspirational filmmak­ er for the generations of artists who came after him? Why him rather than someone else?

Because he was and he remains omnipresent, to the point that he has become part of the collective unconscious. In the same way that, when people saw the images of the Twin Towers collapse on 11 September 2001, they had the impression that they had seen it before. They believed that it was something from a Hollywood movie. It’s as if the reality of things was a ghost of the fiction. It’s an extreme case, but that event had an impact on many levels, whether political, philosophical or moral. If you look closely at Hitchcock’s films and isolate certain sequences, you find these same levels and even others, such as a sexual reading of human relations. He was a real thinker, including on the subject of the media. It is no coincidence that, in 1959, he hired TV technicians to shoot Psycho. He understood that Hollywood had to redefine itself in relation to television, which was becoming dominant.

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2009 — Double Take

Which is again the case today with the arrival of other sorts of images, and the consumption of images. How do you see that?

It has become an economic phenomenon. Now video games earn more money than Hollywood, which now has to recapture this new medium. I think that these changes are a good thing when they force the cinema to open up. Double Take was also made to show that development. Our connection with the image has passed through montage, then channel hopping, and now we are ‘skipping’, jumping from chapter to chapter in a story as on a DVD. These developments come through technological advances, yet without this technology your films would probably not exist. They must even take account of it, and advance with it in order to remain valid…

In Berlin recently Double Take was called post-modern. That leaves me feeling a bit doubtful. In spite of everything, my films remain attached to the ancestral techniques of cinema, such as the principle of narrative. Even if they are fragmented or told in a non-linear way they – and we are talking about films, aren’t we? – follow

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a path. I hardly dare to say it, but I think that my films preserve a sort of utopia which is inherent in ‘traditional’ cinema, whereas today it is dystopia that rules, particularly in science fiction cinema. Ever since Blade Runner it always rains in futuristic films. I’m not a cynic, I still believe in the possibility of poetry in the cinema, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a discussion, a critical reflection on the world and the media. Is the irony that you use in your films a form of defence?

Humour always plays on paradox. It shows two sides of the same thing, since jokes only work through contrast. It introduces a certain tension which I think is political. Humour is the only way to criticise a system from within. It’s a very powerful way of transmitting messages. It is necessary at a time when the media is more than ever based on manipulation, even on cynicism, since the staging of the war in Iraq which made things simultaneously transparent and opaque. I find this contradiction enormously interesting. Could you make a ‘normal’ film, an everyday kind of cinema?

I’m leaning that way. In Double Take there are moments of traditional cinema, but with the aim of opening things up, of putting things in perspective. Already with Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, bridges were built between cinema and television. Even if it came out in a museum like the Pompidou Centre, TV channels were involved in financing it. It’s natural to try to escape the limits when one is in control – particularly in the plastic arts where people have a tendency to navel-gaze – and make alliances in other domains. How do you explain what is happening today with visual artists moving into cinema and filmmakers moving with increasing ease into other art forms, such as opera and theatre?

One could reflect on the limits of cinema, which may be an inadequate tool or too limited to tell today’s stories. But I think that this is especially due to economic factors. The link between money and art has changed profoundly in recent years. Until then, the art world found different means to produce works, it didn’t recognise the same rigidity that you find in the cinema where there are rules, a correct procedure imposed so that a film can find its audience. Film producers and distributors today set rules for filmmakers, for example in terms of subject matter or a length that has to be respected if films are ever going to make it onto the screen, on the pretext that the general public cannot get into other narrative structures, into forms other than those which already exist. Hollywood currently suffers from a creative leukaemia, it only puts forward the same formulas, the same frameworks, yet it is quite clear that the public wants something different. 1998 — Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y (essay) 2005 — Looking for Alfred (short) 2009 — Double Take (documentary)

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dimitri karakatsanis 

°1975

Awarded the Prize for Best Graduation Film for his first short, The Guide, Dimitri Karakatsanis caused a sensation in 2007 with his first feature, Small Gods. In between he made numerous commercials, and is the co-writer of Left Bank by Pieter Van Hees. —


2007 — Small Gods

Why did you become a film director?

I’m often asked that question and I never have an answer. If I think about it, I would say that it accompanied my feelings on seeing Polanski’s The Tenant for the first time. That film woke me up. I didn’t even know how they made films. A friend had enrolled in a film school, and I followed him. I also believe that the fact that the cinema is a sort of perpetual journey, which can bring you to the most stylish restaurants as well as the filthiest places, also played a part. But I’m not even sure that I want to remain a filmmaker. I directed Small Gods, I’m working on two other projects while asking myself if I really want to finish them, because I’m divided between the industrial side of the cinema and that which I thought was its reason for being. For me, a film has a sort of mirroring effect on humanity, on what one does in the world. As a viewer, that is increasingly what I look for in a film, while I have the impression that’s the exact opposite with production today. I’m just back from Hollywood. The people there are very professional, but for a film to get underway you have to be able to explain it in one line. You don’t even have to have written a script in order to sell a film, the studios are ready to buy a basic pitch. The genesis of Small Gods is astonishing: without your determination to carry through this project, it would probably never have seen the light of day, and even less so in a system like that of Hollywood…

It took five years for Small Gods to take shape, to the point that we – my brother Nicolas and I – were almost surprised to get there. We thought: “Well, that’s that! We made a film, and now back to real life.” Yet during those five years, we didn’t have the final objective in mind, the idea that it was going to be shown. We were driven only by the need to make it. I watched Harakiri by Kobayashi for the nth time this week, and this film illustrates exactly what I want from the cinema: to combine a classic form with a spiritual backdrop. Making a film for the sake of it holds no interest for me. Showing off by saying something like: “There it is, I’m a director!” Who cares? One has to be able to accept the films one has made. I want to film in

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order to learn something about myself. Do you know Wendy & Lucy? I think that’s fantastic, a sort of Buddhist film where you learn to get rid of everything the better to find yourself. Even so, Small Gods is fed by cinematic conventions, for example those of the road movie. At the beginning you even wrote it as a horror film…

Those rules are not necessarily a constraint. I need them in order not to lose myself in the writing. To a certain extent I reproduce the Hollywood model. I follow the rules in order to be able to find an audience, but on a much smaller scale, almost like a craftsman. I would like to be able to bring together the two sides of cinema at the moment, to be able to tell a very personal story while having the keys necessary for it to reach a large audience. I don’t follow alternative or independent cinema too closely. It’s fantastically made but it doesn’t speak to me, it doesn’t touch me, it is often just empty posturing. For the moment I’m still in an observation phase, trying to understand how the tools necessary to make films function. Yes, but when one uses styles like the road movie or horror films, there’s also a risk of invoking the dominant cultural influence in those styles: American cinema.

That surpasses one nationality. For me, horror cinema is one of the purest forms. When it works, like it does in The Shining, it surpasses its ultra-simple stories with powerful emotions. But often it also draws on the worst clichés. Small Gods changed direction in the writing so as not to fall into that trap. If Polanski made such great films with The Tenant and Rosemary’s Baby it is probably because he had such a turbulent life before making them. We Belgian filmmakers generally have quiet lives. For the most part we come from the middle classes, neither rich nor poor, with careers neither better nor worse than anyone else, but which lack a certain hardship. As a result, there is often a tendency to make superficial films. What are you trying to prove to yourself with the self-imposed demands of your work?

It’s as much about learning something as being able to reach the public. Not long ago, I was convinced that the film I’m in the process of writing could meet those two objectives, to the point that I wondered if I was writing the sort of film that I wanted to see as a viewer rather than one that I would like to make. There is nothing that upsets me more than ‘little’ films which seem to me to be very pertinent in their aim and form, but which don’t find an audience or which are only seen at festivals. In that frame of mind, how did you feel about the recognition received by Small Gods at festivals?

It was very odd. To be honest, I was rather puzzled when the Venice Film Festival, which after all is one of the three biggest in the world, selected Small Gods for its Critics’ Week. It simply never occurred to me when I was making it that this would happen… After its presentation there, I was contacted by an American agent working for one of the biggest agencies, the one which represents Johnny Depp and the Coen brothers. He said to me straight away: “Your film shows that you are talented, but I’m going to have trouble selling it here.” He simply thought that Small Gods was the most arthouse of any arthouse film that could be shown in the

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2007 — Small Gods

USA (laughs). That conversation started my current line of enquiry: how to reach the general public while staying true to myself? I’m not going to find the answer in Belgium, because here films are not judged by what they are but according to the personality of whoever made them. Festivals allowed me to come into contact with an outside view and audience. You have mentioned directors such as Kobayashi and Polanski. These are filmmakers who, as well as being influenced by their cultures of origin, share a way of filmmaking that is not demonstrative, which leaves much off-screen. Do you recognise yourself in that approach?

Absolutely. I’m sorry that this tonality is not part of Flemish culture, which is essentially pragmatic. In the films of Kobayashi, it’s not what he says about Japan that interests me, but his universality. The same goes for Tarkovsky. Here we don’t really have a cinematic culture, because we live in a relatively stable world. With the exception of a paedophile scandal in the Dutroux affair, nothing has happened in Belgium for a long time that could nurture an innovative cinema. There has been a sort of spurt here, with the films of Fien Troch, Koen Mortier and some others, but that has to be put into perspective. The biggest successes in Flemish cinema do not involve these films, but those that remain in an ultra-calibrated mould. I’m afraid that the directors who are out of the ordinary today will be making mainstream films in less than five years. Of course there are the Dardennes, who use social textures. I can’t do that, it doesn’t interest me. And what’s more, they have a real cinematic career behind them. I’m only at the beginning, I don’t really know yet what I want to say, which makes my task rather complicated at the moment. You work with your brother, who has become a noted cameraman. Does that lead you to a more personal expression?

I’m convinced that you cannot make personal films on your own. Whether that is me working with my brother, or Koen with his producer, who is also his wife, or Fien, who is assisted by her father, it requires two of you. That allows you to be in 78


a state of dialogue, to have a little distance and confidence in what you are doing. But that’s not connected to culture or origins. With Nicolas, I’m not looking to make films which are either emblematic or carry an identity, but rather ones with the most universal subject matter possible. You have had offers from Hollywood. Do you think you would be able to reconcile your ethic as a director with that system, where a foreign di­ rector is usually considered like a hired hand?

The only possible solution to that is to find stories that are saleable at the international level. Going to Hollywood is practically a guarantee that a film will have global visibility. The American label is a real passport for being exported, not the ticket “Flemish Film”. Moscow, Belgium caused a sensation last year because it was sold. The film was bought in 20 or so countries, but how was it distributed? Who saw it in these countries? I was in New York when it came out there, and I didn’t see any promotion and not one poster. At most it was shown in two arthouse cinemas, while it is fundamentally a populist film. How can it find an audience being distributed in this way? If it had been made in the USA, without changing a single detail, its visibility would have been at least ten times greater. Now, when I make Small Gods, there are 1,500 people who see it in Flanders. If I make another film in the same spirit, there will probably only be 100 of them. Economically and culturally, it is practically impossible to make the sort of films that I want to make here. It is probably only in America that I can achieve that. Now, I could be mistaken, and that’s one of my greatest fears at the moment… 2001 — The Guide (short) 2007 — Small Gods

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Koen Mortier 

°1965

After attracting attention with his commercials and a hand­ful of short films, Koen Mortier did not go unnoticed with his first feature, Ex Drummer. Adapted from a celebrated novel by Herman Brusselmans, it became a social phenomenon in Flanders, strongly dividing the press, some of whom saw it as an atrocity, others as a masterpiece. This year Mortier will shoot 22nd of May, while preparing Haunted, based on a book by Chuck Palahniuk. —


How did you become a film director?

I went to film school, but not to become a director. I had no such ambition. The school was oriented more towards television and theatre, and it was there that I found internships as an assistant. After two or three plays I got fed up, because I realised I would have to work in Flanders in order to get on. Why?

Because I’m Flemish, and also because my French is so-so. Therefore it would have been very complicated to work on the French-speaking side. On top of that, this was at a time when Flemish theatre was very bad. It’s changed since then, but at the time they only staged old-fashioned things from the repertoire. So I went to look at the cinema side, through the usual route: internships and then little jobs as a grip. After that I was an editor for television… Nothing pleased me very much, until I got into advertising, where I was an assistant to directors of different nationalities. For me that was a fantastic opening, since I could see how people from cultures other than my own thought, but also because, in contrast to the cinema, commercials allow you to learn things by working rapidly. You then directed commercials, but under the pseudonym Lionel Gold­ stein…

When I started to make commercials the idea of scripting them, of making little fictional films out of them, made no sense in Belgium. Everything had to work visually. A friend and I wanted to explore other avenues, so we invented this pseudonym so that we could do what we wanted without the advertising world being able to identify us. At first our films were seen as anarchy within the established rules of advertising. The first commercial that we signed with the name Lionel Goldstein scandalised the Belgian profession. Luckily, we were quickly spotted by American and British agencies… Ex Drummer engages with that anarchist side, wrapped up perhaps in a punk sensibility. How old were you when that movement emerged?

It was already too late. I was 15 when punk was having its last gasp. I come from a village where there were 500 inhabitants and 35,000 pigs. However there was a bar there called “In Hell”, a place that was always on the point of going broke. Its owner once put on 24 hours of punk, and the whole village was worried. The cops were everywhere and people barricaded their houses. Parents told their children not to go, and of course if you were one of these children your one desire was to go and have a look. It was incredible. Punks came from all the countries around Belgium: Germans, French, Dutch. A phenomenal night… which effectively closed the bar because it was completely wrecked. And that’s my experience of punk! (laughs) That event was the idea of two young people from the village who had gone to see a concert in Bruges and come back transformed, with Mohicans, safety pins, the lot… They set up the only punk band in the neighbourhood, even though they couldn’t play a note. That was a sort of initiation into anarchy for me, because these guys were even crazier than punk ideology would suggest. But they were lunatics who knew how to have a good time. The concert in Ex Drummer is my small tribute to the energy of that time. But in reality it was worse: I remember a guy shitting in the middle of the crowd during the concert!

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2007 — Ex Drummer

You talk about it with a certain affection, a sentiment one can see in the provocative side of Ex Drummer…

I was astonished by the way the film was received in Flanders, where it caused an enormous controversy. There was much less in other countries. It’s certain that there are no in-betweens with Ex Drummer: you are either for it or against it. The Flemish reaction probably sprang from the fact that it’s the first film in this spirit to be made here. It’s as if a fox had been thrown into a chicken coop. Yet to my mind it’s not a nihilist film; it talks about a writer who is certainly provocative in his behaviour, but who is trying to change things. It’s in his nature to act that way. I think above all that he serves to reveal the deep sadness of the other characters. My aim was to show that sadness. I tried to treat it in an absurd way, including through the use of violence, in order to present these characters as simple human beings. That violence connects with what motivates the punks, which in turn shows their discontent...

If my film is punk, it is mainly in this way of showing that behind their loutish exteriors these people have strong feelings, a romantic side. But also because current

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2007 — Ex Drummer

ways of life make us quick to classify things we don’t know about. We’ve all judged people by appearances at one time or another. That’s something strange about people. I wanted to play with that, to show a character who appears acceptable but who isn’t, and vice-versa. Was it to retain that perspective that you chose to tell Ex Drummer’s very realistic, matter-of-fact story in a completely contrasting way?

At all costs I wanted the cast to act out this story in the most realistic way possible, not only so that we could identify with their characters, but also to express their humanity. If the style of the film itself contrasts totally with that idea, it is because the events related in Ex Drummer are basically absurd, even profoundly stupid at certain moments. I also wanted to differentiate myself, in form, from the highly regimented norms of contemporary cinema, where it is in poor taste to do bizarre things. That staggers me. Most great directors film with their own visual language and I think that’s the least a filmmaker can do. How do you define yours?

Everything that is visual comes from images that sprang into my mind for no precise reason. Although… the concept of the guy who walks on the ceiling was a way of showing that he doesn’t belong to the same world as the others, that he is really lost to humanity. So I didn’t have to explain this, as the book on which Ex Drummer is based has to explain it, with an interminable succession of scenes in which he takes drugs or he beats up women. If I did it like that, it would have become just a low-rent Trainspotting, whereas my aim was to show this character as a guy who has lost his way. I know that the idea of a guy who lives on the ceiling is going to seem strange to lots of people, but when I show him in a scene trying to return to the floor, I think that you can see what remains of his humanity. The same goes for the opening sequence where the characters go backwards. For me, this is because it’s in the writer’s head and he is rewinding the story… That remains my big question: if you chose to have a mise en scène that is out of the ordinary, does that allow people to better understand what you want to express?

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Among your future projects is an adaptation of Haunted, a book by Chuck Palahniuk, a writer who also has an unusual style which is both radical and popular. What attracted you to this way of seeing things?

I try not to make commercial films that inadvertently cut me off from people, to stay close to real popular culture. You only have to sit in a bar for two or three hours and you will hear incredible conversations, things as creative as they are crazy. That language is never used in films because the intelligentsia finds it too shameful. The cinema is too polite when it comes to reality. But listen, I don’t want to make populist films either. I don’t simply want to lie to people. For me, Chuck Palahniuk’s universe goes in that direction. The first of his books that I read was Lullaby, and in it I discovered an author who is equal to Lynch. He is considered to be an intellectual – he plays up to that a little in any case – but ultimately he is somewhere between a philosopher and a farmer, with two feet firmly on the ground and his head in the clouds, and he ultimately speaks about pure things, simpler things than one would imagine. To my mind Palahniuk is the same: he uses provocation as an arena, but that’s only superficial. If you look beneath the surface you find profound thoughts about the meaning of life. I would love to achieve his artistry: to be philosophical without philosophising. 1995 — Ana Temnei (short) 1997 — A Hard Day’s Work (short) 2007 — Ex Drummer 2010 — 22nd of May

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nicolas provost 

°1969

Well-known in the contemporary art world since his first exhibitions in 2000, Nicolas Provost questions art’s relationship with cinema in short films that draw on traditional fiction as much as the abstract. Shown in art galleries and film festivals the world over, from Sundance to Clermont-Ferrand, his films play as much on the collective unconscious as on that of cinema when they use extracts from the classics – from Hitchcock to Resnais, from Kurosawa to Bergman. Provost is currently preparing The Invader, his first feature film. —


You are a noted visual artist who regularly uses the cinema in your in­ stallations. In this context, what is the cinema for you? A tool?

I treat cinema like a medium. I make things from it within a visual art perspective. I’m going in two directions at once, as if I had two careers, one in contemporary art, one in the cinema. I have always wanted to be a director, but for a long time I thought that I was too young. At 18, I preferred to go to art school. I wasn’t mature enough, I didn’t have enough to say to make a film. That’s probably a roundabout way, but looking more closely at it, my work as a visual artist questions the conventions and grammar of cinema. As such, some of your work uses film extracts as raw material, which you then rework…

For more than 100 years the public has been conditioned by cinema’s narrative conventions, while today it is much more mature than we imagine. Playing with parameters that one unconsciously recognises interests me, in order to demonstrate the power of this audiovisual phenomenon, but also to get close to the collective memory of cinema. I find this dream machine highly poetic. The very principle of this work in certain of your short films leads one to place you in the area of experimental cinema. Do you see yourself there?

Not at all, but I understand that categorisation. For me, experimental cinema is a genre, mainly American, in which one plays with film. It’s ‘scratching’. If it’s really necessary to bring me into that style, it is better to talk of these short films as a form of video art. Nevertheless, I always try to convince myself that they are cinematic experiments. So, watchable in cinemas, with a beginning, a middle and an end. I want people to believe in every second, because I’m afraid of boring people. On the other hand, I like the idea that these films should be like paintings that one hangs in a museum. This idea of a bridge between the arts can also be felt in the films you have chosen to use in your shorts. They are made by directors (Kuro­ sawa, Bergman, Hitchcock and Russ Meyer) who represent key cultural phases in cinema history.

I can feel a continuity, a story unfolding across cinema. Paradoxically this is at a moment when it is often said that film is a little bit dead as an art. I rarely go to the cinema to see films, but I continue to watch one or two a day, usually old ones, at home. There is something fascinating about being inspired by a period that one has not really experienced. It is almost working vicariously. My films are connected to the 1970s because of my childhood, to the 1960s by the stories told by my parents, to the 1950s by those of my grandparents. I sometimes have the rather magical impression of feeling nostalgic for decades that I never knew. The real difference between video art and the cinema rests on whether or not it has a narrative intent. Do you think of your films in terms of stories?

My films always come from a very intuitive idea, which I allow to wander. I try to remain as free as possible, as naive as possible during the process, up to the moment when I think I have put my finger on the magical element of which I was speaking a moment ago. But during its construction, it is as if I am dealing with 88


2004 — Exoticore

2004 — Oh Dear

a puzzle whose pieces must be put in place. In Gravity or Butterfly of Love, I first investigated how to join together images of kisses. It was only when I had the final result that I knew what they were saying: that which is unchanging in a love affair between a man and a woman; the grand passion, the abandonment of the self, then disappointment. I play with the involvement of the audience, which engages its own feelings when it sees my films. As a result, I like to leave certain mysteries unresolved in my films. Gravity and Butterfly of Love however don’t use the same narrative principle as Induction or Exoticore, because these last two are more evidently fictional. But I always try to retain a certain amount of narrative. Most artistic media, whether it is a song, a video installation or even a sculpture, have to tell a story. But it was only recently that I realised that, with each work, I am desperately searching for a good story. Even more so today, since I’m preparing my first feature film. And I’m already afraid for the next one, asking myself where I’m going to find the ideal story. A film like Plot Point also uses its moment in time as a subconscious nar­ rative. This view of the American police would have been seen differently, rightly or wrongly, before 9/11 or before the appearance of a reality TV show such as Cops…

I was educated by television. Since I was addicted to it, I ended up by throwing it out and I was without a TV set for eight years. It wasn’t so long ago that I got one again, and so I’ve only recently noticed the coming of reality TV. I watch it a lot, and it works, because it mirrors life, people and their great desire for recognition. It fascinates me, but I’m not sure that there is a link with Plot Point. Even if one of my biggest areas of inquiry is to explore the mental state of viewers after all these years of audiovisual exposure, with this film I wanted to play with Hollywood conventions. That said, I’m entirely aware of living at a certain moment, I follow the news and that’s often what inspires me. Plot Point is my most accomplished work because it is the film which is closest to who I am today. The idea of a fiction constructed from reality on the streets was not premeditated. I took my camera 89


2006 — Induction

and I filmed from life. It happened quite quickly, and it was afterwards that I understood that there was nothing surprising in my making a film in that way, at that moment. Plot Point opened new avenues for me. After New York I went to film in Las Vegas and Tokyo, thinking of a progressive trilogy. Plot Point was shot with a hidden camera, without alerting anyone. In Las Vegas I talked to people, while in Tokyo I brought in an actor. These are three highly cinematographic towns. Did you play on their in­ trinsic film myths?

They are fundamental: anyone who goes to New York for the first time immediately finds themselves on a film set. Even if it was partially improvised, it was no coincidence that Plot Point was shot on Times Square. You immediately have the sensation that you are in a film studio. I went there with the idea of being inspired by Hollywood conventions and composition… And certainly not by 9/11. In any case, I’m not a political artist. That’s why I ended the film with this choreography of police cars, in order to distance it from any link with the attacks, so that one doesn’t know if these policemen are coming back or leaving for some other exploit. I’m expecting to shoot my first feature film early next year in Brussels. Brussels is also a very cinematographic town, but it has not been used very much in films. I hope to be able to play with its signs and symbols. But I already know that it will be complicated. For example, when it comes to lighting, the Brussels streets are lit in yellow: you can’t do anything with that colour. In Tokyo, Las Vegas and New York the light is a mixture of halogen white and neon. The first thing that struck me on arriving in Las Vegas was the intensity of colours and shadows.

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You lived for several years in Norway. Did you feel an inverted exoticism when you returned to Belgium?

Since I was little I was a dreamer and an observer at the same time. The desire to belong to a group, to know my own identity always mattered to me. I left for Norway at 23, for a period of ten years of my life. It’s there that I more or less became an adult, where I tried to find my place in the world. It’s a subject that will be close to my heart all my life… …it is also that of Exoticore…

…and of my feature film. It’s about one of the thousands of Africans who come to Europe hoping to find paradise. His confrontation with our society will drive him mad and turn him into the sort of monster we expect him to be, because of our prejudices… It’s hard not to see that as a political subject…

…I know, but I’m trying to maintain as much distance as possible from that aspect of it, in order to tell the story of a man who doesn’t find his place in the world because he wants too much. This feature film will logically involve a change to your work. It is con­ ceived as a fiction film, aimed at the general public. Do you think it will change your creative processes?

The only difference is economic. You have to have a specific style of writing in order to find finance and motivate the team who will work on the film. I see it as a commercial film, very traditional, in order to allow it to benefit from the largest possible distribution. I want it to remain a personal film, but very accessible. I don’t want to make an arthouse film that falls into a niche. Knowing that, I chose to make a thriller. You can put lots of things into that film genre: action, love, sex, and why not some poetry? 2003 — Butterfly of Love (Papillon d’amour, short) 2003 — Yellow Mellow (short) 2004 — Exoticore (short) 2004 — Oh Dear (short) 2006 — Induction (short) 2007 — Plot Point (short) 2008 — Suspension (short) 2010 — The Invader

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2007 — Plot Point


michaël R. roskam 

°1972

After studying graphic design, Michaël R. Roskam turned towards painting and then the cinema, where he found his true vocation. His four short films, shown in numerous film festivals, have brought him an international reputation. Roskam is currently preparing Bullhead, his first feature film, a story of scorned friendship set against a background of agricultural hormone smuggling, which he expects to start shooting in the fall of 2009. —


How did you become a film director?

My sense of culture developed around two very stimulating things: comic strips and Saturday afternoon films on TV, where I discovered all the Hollywood classics; John Wayne, Charlie Chaplin, Capra. At first, I only wanted one thing: to draw comics. That seemed to me to be the best way to tell stories. So I decided to study graphic arts in Brussels. Courses in comic art didn’t exist, so I opted for the nearest thing. I soon found out that they would mainly ask me to do illustrations or posters. I love that, but I missed the idea of having a story too much. Afterwards, through my studies, I started to mix with contemporary artists. Their absolute creative freedom and their level of thinking, their intellectual conception of the world, quickly drew me in. After meeting them, I changed direction in order to take up painting. After my art-school years, I went through many little jobs in order to support myself. As a journalist for the daily "De Morgen" and editing manuals for medical software, I was pulled towards writing. I drew on all that in the short stories that I wrote, as if my artistic side was spying on my daily life. I also got into images, with video art. In that setting I met a producer from whom I borrowed a film camera. When I told him what I wanted to do, he asked me why I didn’t make a traditional short film, with a beginning, a middle and an end. I had never done that sort of work. He persuaded me that I was capable of doing it. It is with that first short film, in 2002, that I felt that I had found my way, that I realised that my relationship with images and narrative had been there for a long time, albeit separated from one another. At the same time, your short films do not conform entirely to classic narrative. One is often plunged without ceremony straight into the heart of the action, or left with a very open ending. It’s as if the viewer is left to invent their own introduction or ending.

Haun, my first film, introduced extremes on this point, just like Today is Friday, my last short film to date. For me, plunging the viewer into a story at a point which is not necessarily the beginning is a way of putting into perspective the issues that I want to address in the story. I literally explain this idea right at the beginning of Carlo: the chronology of someone’s fate doesn’t have so much importance, it’s all a question of causes and effects. What drives a story on are the consequences, rarely the causes. That process allows me to create a dynamism straight away in my films, a narrative rhythm. I spent a long time looking for what seemed to me to be the right balance in this way of doing things: how can I tell the viewer too much or too little so that they don’t get lost? Is that why you often play on pretence in your short films? In Carlo, for instance, where everything rests on a misunderstanding revealed at the end of the film, or in The One Thing to Do, where the identity of the char­ acters is never certain…

It’s intentional. It quickly introduces an atmosphere of suspense for the viewer. I love genre films such as thrillers, but I don’t want to fall in with their conventions. I prefer to excite people’s curiosity by indirect means, so that they have the impression that they know where my characters are going to go, but that they need to understand how they will get there. For me, successful suspense is not about progressively revealing who fired the shot, but how it was fired. In telling that part of a story, you avoid prejudices about the characters, categorising them or judging

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2003 — Carlo

them too quickly. That’s my philosophy in life, and I try to reflect it in my films. You perceive people’s actions better when you know what motivates them. Hence the multiple points of view, allowing a more global view on events in short films such as Carlo and The One Thing to Do?

Exactly. The starting point for Carlo is ultimately just a joke. But by exploring it from several angles, I hope to give a bit more depth to a simple situation and characters. Take the classic situation of a guy who slips on a banana skin and who falls down. If I had to film it, it would be by using the banana skin as an object of predestination. Maybe this guy fell down because he is someone who always walks too fast, which means that he has an advantage over everyone else because he walks faster. But that could also be a flaw: if he walked less quickly, a street sweeper would have come by and cleaned up the banana skin before he slipped on it. I like to start with an event which seems completely anecdotal to show that there is more to it than that. My films are like a stage set that I can rotate in front of the camera, to work out all the angles of a situation. They are nevertheless guided by the recurrent use of a voice-over…

I’ve always been a huge fan of films which keep alive a radio tradition, in the style of Orson Welles, where the narrator serves as a guide. The voice-over must not be an excuse for getting around a lack of resources or time to tell a story, but it has to be part of the film’s style. At the moment I’m developing a film in which I would like to completely involve a voice-over by playing on the identity of the narrator. That comes back to a profoundly cultural idea: depending on whether one uses a man or a woman, the meaning given by a voice-over can change completely. It is likely that my use of that technique also comes from my childhood. I come from a place where you are defined by your work, and without any pretension on my part, I like the idea of being able to be near people through my voice as an artist, through what I can tell them.

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2005 — The One Thing to Do

One can see there a metaphor for the Belgian identity, where it is not easy to exist between these two facets…

To a certain extent being Belgian is a piece of luck for me: this country and its culture lend themselves excellently to this narrative technique. In my films I play with different Belgian identities and languages… They are only barriers if you see them as such. The important thing is to know how to be yourself and to be honest with that feeling, because it allows you to make contact with a universal feeling. Is that why your short films are not only nurtured by American influ­ ences, taking their place in genre cinema, but at the same time tell pro­ foundly European stories?

Until my teenage years, probably because of my introduction to films which I was talking about at the beginning of the interview, the cinema could only be American in my eyes. I had the feeling that in Europe it was not an innate cultural reflex. Through my short films I progressively discovered the desire, hidden until that point, to embody myself through films, that I did not want to belong to a particular genre, but that I wanted to recount things that the public the world over could understand, in which people could see themselves regardless of their specific identities. Nevertheless I remain attached to a sort of tragi-comedy, because that style makes it possible to render stories acceptable without moralising. I’m in the process of finishing writing the script of a feature film in which I would like viewers to completely change their minds about the characters, and even become suspicious of their own thoughts, to the point that they end up saying to themselves that they will not come to a conclusion about what they see before knowing where I want to take it. Let it be understood, I don’t want to manipulate people. On the contrary, for me the very nature of a filmmaker is to be at their service in satisfying a natural and ancestral need to let oneself be told stories and to believe them.

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2005 — The One Thing to Do

That approach changes according to whether one is making a short film or a feature. What differences do you see between the two styles?

I can’t answer that question exactly yet, since my first feature has yet to be completed. For the moment, I think that I’m going to prefer filming in this format. I’ve had that impression since The One Thing to Do, where I realised after it was finished that I had new desires concerning what I wanted to say, that I wanted something a bit more epic, a bit more dynamic, but there is no place for that in a short film. But my main concern at the moment remains the need to be sure that the script of this film works… 2002 — Haun (short) 2003 — Carlo (short) 2005 — The One Thing to Do (short) 2007 — Today is Friday (short) 2010 — Bullhead (Rundskop)

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caroline strubbe 

°1965

After film studies in Barcelona and Louvain, Caroline Strubbe had various jobs (production assistant, assis­ tant director, scriptwriter) before directing numerous short films, documentaries, commercials and TV series. Co-founder of the film and live arts production company Minds Meet, she has just finished Lost Persons Area, her first theatrical feature. —


2009 — Lost Persons Area

Why did you become a film director?

I think that it came from my very first experience of the cinema, at school, in the context of a cinema club. It gave me a very comforting feeling to see people’s lives being related to me on a screen, while at the same time feeling protected by the fact of being in a movie theatre. That idea can be found in Lost Persons Area: many scenes are filmed at a distance, through windows or in mirrors or as reflections. It’s as if your characters were also spectators in what is happening…

That idea of having a privileged view is among the reasons I was attracted to the cinema, that need to watch other people’s lives in order to understand my own. But also the fact that, for me, images and all the impact they can have are much stronger than writing or speech. I have many more memories of images than of sounds. Lost Persons Area is also a means of closing something. This film is like one of those boxes for storing photographs; one day you have to take the decision to sort through them and make an album. For a long time I stored up ideas rather than photos, things that I found beautiful when I was travelling or little feelings of resentment, for example concerning my parents…

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Is that the reason Lost Persons Area is a film that always seems to be ad­ vancing, even in its images, which are always moving?

I worked with a cameraman who is also a photographer. I wanted to do something very photographic to counter a tendency for formal rigidity in my first films. I think that at the time this reflected a real fear, a real apprehension about how people would perceive my work. My first short film recounted more or less the same story as Lost Persons Area, with a similar little girl character, but in such a rigid and impenetrable form… I didn’t film again for eight years, during which time I wondered about all of that, before arriving at the conclusion that I needed to be a lot freer. This could perhaps be seen as one of the subjects of Lost Persons Area: how can people learn to have more confidence in themselves…

These characters are immensely dependent on how other people see them. They are so afraid of it that they dare not confront it, because they are terrified by the pain of an eventual rejection by other people. I was really very scared of making my first film. The creative process was appalling, to the point that when the film started to get a response, to be awarded prizes, I was still suffering so much from making it that this welcome escaped me and didn’t make me happy at all. I told myself that it was just luck, that I would be found out. At that time I almost gave up the cinema. If filmmaking was like what I had just been through, it was no longer possible. I ended up convincing myself that if I wanted to make a film again, I would have to find my own way of doing it. This was followed by a series of questions, one of which was fundamental: what distressed me so much about the usual way of making a film? Preparing everything, making storyboards, having the actors word-perfect at the required moment… Lost Persons Area was made completely contrary to these constraints, in particular when it came to the images. I said to my cameraman: “This film is being made without additional light, without a shooting script, everything will be done in response to the actors and I will probably improvise the mise en scène sometimes. You will not always know which direction we are going in, but that’s the way you find the style of a film: by making it.” That made it possible to avoid being controlled, to let the film come into being and find its own personality. Which comes through that very unusual texture of light…

We had no artificial light, but I still wanted something luminous. So we used focal lengths adapted to that situation, which allowed us to capture the actors’ expressions despite the lack of light. The same for the camera, which was always handheld, even for static shots. All of that contributed to my desire to make an organic film, escaping from the academicism that I feared like the plague. This organic aspect is released by a truly physical, sensual relationship with the elements. Earth, water and the sense of space are very present in Lost Persons Area. Was that intentional?

Yes and no. I did not devise Lost Persons Area with that relationship in mind, but it is something that’s very close to me. I’m very open to the influence that these elements have on us, their impact on our moods. That must correspond to a need for globalness, which is translated into a need to be in permanent contact with the elements. My first short film was shot in the same place as Lost Persons Area, near

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2009 — Lost Persons Area

Rotterdam. I probably returned there because it corresponded to a loop, to a life cycle. That open space was important because it implies the difficulty one has in facing upto oneself. The film is about a sort of imprisonment of the characters by social status, by the role that it forces us to play, whether we like it or not. Which would explain the importance of the physical, of bodies in this film?

For me cinema is much more about bodies than it is about dialogue. The way that a character moves says much more about the character than words. The majority of the actors are non-professionals, but they are all dancers. I feel more or less the same sensations when I’m in the cinema as when I’m at a dance performance. I find that kind of freedom fantastic, when it comes to dancers who leave behind certain everyday constraints while on stage. It is very celebratory to see them move unhindered, to see them use the full extent of the space. I rarely find that sense of movement, that awareness of the body in actors, possibly because dancers have broken down certain behavioural barriers. For example, they can touch each other without covering it in sentiment. I met Lisbeth, one of the actresses in the film, who worked for a long time with Jan Fabre, by chance. I was at a party where I saw this girl dancing, but without any idea of seduction. She was dancing to release 104


herself. It was magnificent, because she was outside the social straightjacket of which the body is usually a part. It’s the first contact that one has with others: a glance at the physical appearance is enough to judge someone, whether he or she is large, small, fat or thin… Doesn’t the real difficulty consists of getting a film in love with liberty into its ultimate economic framework by releasing it and bringing it to the public?

The distributor wanted us to stay under two hours because that’s a standard length. However, there have recently been some convincing examples of longer films which have found an audience. Beyond two hours, something happens, even if it happens slowly, and both directors and viewers find themselves possessed by that kind of film. We’ve made lots of different versions of the film. I had the impression of making pottery: the clay was the rushes, but then you search for a form to give the whole thing. You are in the middle of modelling this material, having to shape it how you want it to be, while also letting it express itself. It goes one way and the other, but I have a hard time being rational, it’s instinct which dominates. As long as I feel that a shot or a sequence is not in the right place, I carry on shaping. One comes back to this idea of an organic film, where it is difficult to explain how these things come together, how the link between emotion and intellect happens, yet it is precisely this that creates the magic of cinema. You were saying earlier that this film was a way of closing something. Once it is done, do you already know in which direction you will go with your next film?

Not yet, but I know that in the end something else will make itself felt, whether through an image or a place. Lost Persons Area clearly has a therapeutic side to it. I had to resolve some things in my relationship with my parents, my investigation of the weight that these two people have in our lives. I’ve always been surprised by the time I spend with friends talking about our parents, trying to understand what we are relative to them and our upbringing. It is really difficult to cure oneself of that. This film has been a form of emancipation from my dependence on the opinion of my parents. Making it has allowed me to find the capacity to love my mother and father. I hope that in the end Lost Persons Area explains that, even if life catches up with all of us and doesn’t give us everything that we want, we can find in it what we need. 1989 — Une mouche dans la salade (short) 1992 — Melanomen (short) 1996 — Taxi Dancer (short) 2009 — Lost Persons Area

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2009 — Lost Persons Area


patrice toye 

°1967

Graduating from the Sint Lukas Academy in 1990, Patrice Toye has made several short films, documentaries and television movies. She directed Rosie, her first feature film, in 1998. During the ten years that separate it from Nowhere Man, Toye made the TV movie Gezocht: Man, and wrote the script of Tin Soldier. She is currently preparing her third feature film. —


2008 — Nowhere Man

Why did you become a film director?

When I was little I adored telling stories, but I think that I get that from my mother. She also loved telling stories and even won a competition for radio plays. She used to write poems on the walls… My home life was awash with this context, while I detested the very strict school I went to. I needed to take refuge in my imagination in order to feel good, until something obvious came to me: the desire to tell stories with images. Perhaps it’s because I have so much respect for literature that I don’t feel able to write. So I enrolled in a film school to give it a try, and it became my natural way of describing things. In Rosie and Nowhere Man, the central characters also resort to their imaginations, because they are unsatisfied with their daily lives…

…And that will also be the case for my next film. They are all very different in form but are united by what they have to say about human existence. It is my pet subject because it leads me to question my own life and what I’m doing with it. The film that I’m working on will again deal with people who enclose themselves in a bubble in order to become what they want to be.

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Nevertheless there is something fundamentally different between Rosie and Nowhere Man. In the first you filmed a little girl’s imagination, while in the other it is that of a fully grown man.

It’s true that these films work a little bit as mirror images, but it comes from the fact that I was on my own in developing Rosie, while I worked with a man on Nowhere Man, a Norwegian novelist who supplied the original idea. It’s fascinating to make that mental voyage with someone else, even when we disagreed profoundly with each other. But Nowhere Man is still too close for me really to analyse it. For the moment I have to detach myself from it. In a couple of years I will be able to come back to it and dissect it. Apart for a TV movie, for the ten years between Rosie and Nowhere Man you filmed nothing. What were you doing?

I became a mother, and I devoted myself fully to that. It was by choice: from the moment that my daughters arrived, that was all I could do. That is in tune with my way of life, I don’t do things 100% but 200%. I didn’t hesitate, my daughters were the centre of my world. Did you put the cinema completely to one side during this period?

Not completely. It is through contact with my daughters that the idea for my next film came to me. Throughout those ten years, I continued to read, to see films. It was if I was storing up ideas in my mind, because I knew that one day I would begin to make films again. Beyond their differences in form, there are other changes at work be­ tween Rosie and Nowhere Man. For example, when it comes to humour, it was completely absent from your first film while the second is full of irony.

Rosie takes place on an emotional level while Nowhere Man was much more to do with the intellect. I wanted that change. Even if I remain who I am, with themes and recurrences, I don’t like repeating myself. Why repeat what I have already done? It’s better to evolve, whether that is in order to take a step backwards or forwards. Some people preferred Nowhere Man, others Rosie, what does it matter? The direction taken by Nowhere Man was necessary for me to renew myself, and probably in order to return, with the following film, to what I consider to be my home, but so that I can see with a new, different eye. Nowhere Man nevertheless revives your taste for literature…

…It’s a fable. Certain people – not me, eh – compared it to Homer’s story of Odysseus who leaves and returns to his wife. That was Bjorn Olaf Johannessen’s intention, since his mind works that way. Working with him was fascinating, since I work in a much less metaphorical way. Being in contact with this man who has a sense of distance in what he writes, where I am much more head-on, opened certain doors for me and brought me closer to a certain sort of cinema, for example that of Antonioni. Ten years ago I found it too cold, but today I adore it. It’s healthy to be able to reconsider things.

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2008 — Nowhere Man

Your two films work as opposites: Rosie is anchored in a reality, a Nordic landscape, while Nowhere Man is situated in a more solar fantasy.

It was necessary for me to redefine my cinematic language for Nowhere Man. It was necessary to go towards a sort of abstraction in the treatment of that story. It could have taken place somewhere else, in Paris or Oslo, but it was necessary to physically isolate the story to show that an existential journey was being related. The two come together in the idea that one can never escape from one’s deepest nature…

The question of identity is a theme that resonates profoundly for me. My films are perhaps a way of saying: I am what I am, nothing more. I’m going to push that even further in my next film, where the characters will be forced to change their lives and name, while at the same time remaining profoundly themselves, and that’s something they will try to preserve. Do you think that the recurrence of this theme has something to do with Belgian identity, which is multiple?

I would like to be able to say no, but that wouldn’t be true. (laughs) I am Belgian, so of course I’m steeped in that. To the point that, for example, I played with surrealism in Rosie and Nowhere Man. Whether one is Flemish or Walloon, that’s a dimension inherent for Belgians. They have always had to adapt to other people and their cultures, whether that is the French, the Germans or the Dutch. But that forced us to create a strong, personal imagination, which has become a sort of Belgian soul.

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…That was more visible in Rosie, which was easier to identify as a Belgian film, than Nowhere Man, which has fewer cultural roots.

One of the biggest influences on Bjorn Olaf for this film are the novels of Ryu Murakami. The fact that he is Norwegian also probably unconsciously permeated Nowhere Man, and the mix of our two cultures must have rendered it more culturally stateless. My next film returns to a more markedly Belgian tonality, if only because it is inspired by a true story which took place in Belgium. But I will try to make it more universal, by taking it out of its time, out of its context. I think that with age, because you are more in contact with the world, particularly in reading more widely, you end up by enlarging your cultural frontiers and discovering that, in the end, people are touched by the same things. So you no longer look close to home but go and pick things up everywhere else. The film I’m working on will tackle the current tendency for people to create bubbles in which to enclose themselves, because of the many fears that others try to instil in us. In this script the girls are forced into a mould to which they don’t wish to conform and they will have to create their own bubble in order to remain themselves. This contact with the current context is already there in Rosie, a film very much anchored in the reality of the time that you made it. What is the importance of being connected to the present?

It is a cliché to say this, but today the world is based on the idea of openness, through the internet, whereas in fact it is in the process of withdrawing into itself. You have to open your eyes to the world around you, and I think that this is one of cinema’s roles. I like to go to festivals to stay in touch with the world through films. For all that, it shouldn’t become an addiction; it is just a way of keeping an open mind. Particularly now, when the cinema is in the process of becoming a sort of composite between experimental and Hollywood norms, between fiction and documentary. It’s very interesting, but I’m afraid that one can’t turn back the clock. I would like us to return to the cinema of Bresson, to become purists again, and not become artificial. It’s important that we continue to advance this medium, but it is even more necessary that we do not forget to make it say something profound, so that it does not become a form of shopping for the public and for directors. That is perhaps why my films concentrate on one character in particular. An individual is something very complicated. Some filmmakers master the art of telling a story through several characters, but I have to limit myself to one, otherwise I get mixed up. My secondary characters are there to feed the drama, to advance the plot and the main role. My aim is to be interested in a human being, not to make a film about a whole generation. (laughs) 1990 — Tout ce qu’elle veut (short) 1992 — Vrouwen willen trouwen (short) 1993 — Altijd ander water (TV movie) 1994 — Stad in zicht (short) 1996 — Stoute schoenen (TV movie) 1997 — L’ amant de maman (TV movie) 1998 — Rosie (aka, The Devil in My Head) 2005 — Gezocht: man (TV movie) 2008 — Nowhere Man ((N)iemand)

113


fien troch 

°1978

During her four years studying at Sint Lukas Academy in Brussels, Fien Troch wrote and directed three short films, all of which circulated in film festivals. Writing and filming her first feature, Someone Else’s Happiness, took another four years, and it too appeared in numerous festivals. In 2008, Fien Troch made Unspoken, her second feature film. —


Why did you become a film director?

I’m the daughter of a film editor. We also went to the cinema a great deal with my parents. Since I was little, the cinema was something very natural, I suppose in the same way as a doctor’s child must have a natural connection with medicine. I’m convinced that I chose this profession because I had been lucky enough to be immersed in the cinema. Also a little because as a child I felt that I lacked a tool for telling stories completely. I put lots of things in my films... Oops, I meant to say that I put lots of painful things in them, even though I certainly don’t want to use the cinema as therapy (laughs). The themes I tackle in them are really very distant from me, while the emotions themselves are very close. How does that manifest itself in films as different as Someone Else’s Happiness and Unspoken?

It is difficult to explain. Take the case of Unspoken. I started by writing a love story around this couple before noticing, little by little, that I was never satisfied with the story, that I needed to add another element, to be exact the disappearance of their daughter, which underlines their suffering, their inability to communicate. It was the same for my first film, where I started with the idea of a little village, and of a woman alone in a huge villa. And three months later I found the idea that bound together the whole story: an accident in which a child dies. In fact, the themes appear once the writing is under way. That said, while the child’s death in Someone Else’s Happiness was a sort of motor which started the film, in the second it is almost an excuse: these two people would not be suffering if their daughter had not disappeared. In both cases, it is a question of suffering linked to the death or disap­ pearance of a child. Why that common point?

Because I want to show extreme emotions. What is more appalling for parents than the loss of a child? It is the perfect framework for plunging characters into the deepest suffering. That has the same effect on the public: who can deny that the death of a child is a serious matter? When I’ve presented Someone Else’s Happiness at festivals, one question often recurs: is it something to do with the Dutroux affair? I’ve always said no. But in thinking about it again, when that affair took place I was 17, an age at which you don’t really care about other people, because you are looking for yourself, yet all the while you are open to external events. So ultimately it is not impossible that the Dutroux affair had an unconscious effect on my films, without me being able to say so. Since we are talking about the unconscious, you use a lot of off-screen action in your films, where nothing is explicitly stated.

It’s very important. Even when I know during the writing precisely what I want to say, I always try to find a way to do it without using dialogue. I’ve got nothing against it, but if there is an alternative, the possibility of doing without it, then I find that more interesting. I even applied that in the mise en scène of Unspoken, by starting the scenes a little bit later than expected or by cutting others a bit short. It is a way of engaging the viewer, so that they want to see what happens next, without frustrating them too much I hope (laughs).

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2008 — Unspoken

This method is linked to editing, but it is not what interests you most. How do you know that a shot has the duration that you want?

While the edited version of Unspoken in the end corresponds with what I had in mind during the writing, on the set it was different and much more difficult. It was impossible to know how I was going to organise the images. I followed a piece of advice from my father, which all editors probably give to directors: you may have a really precise idea of what you want, but all the same take care to film more material than you need. At the same time, on this film the atmosphere during the shoot was so calm that when the camera was rolling I forgot that I was on a set. Being so absorbed in what I was doing and able to devote myself to it completely helped me have a vision of the whole of the film. My short films were a very formative experience: when shooting them I had the tendency to shout “Cut!” before the actors had really stopped speaking their parts. Since then I’ve got into the habit of letting the camera roll for a little bit longer. Unspoken centres on two characters while there were many more in Someone Else’s Happiness. Which was the easiest for you to handle?

I got the impression that it was much more difficult with my second film. For the first, having a myriad of characters allowed me to hide the weaknesses by passing from one to the other when I had the impression that the narrative wasn’t working. With Unspoken I was faced with only two characters. It’s impossible to run away under those conditions, or to resort to tricks. It wasn’t insurmountable but that put me in a permanent state of tension ‑ not with the actors, but with what I wanted to say. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, since I wanted the film to be in that state. Rather than saying that the film was more difficult than Someone Else’s Happiness, I would say that it was more intense. 117


2005 — Someone Else’s Happiness

But also more intimate in its form: the camera is much closer to the cou­ ple in Unspoken than it was to the characters in Someone Else’s Happiness…

It was a way of getting into the private space of their suffering. By only having two characters, I could take the liberty of getting close to them, in contrast to what happens in documentaries where, when one films people in mourning, the camera has an almost natural tendency to distance itself out of respect for their pain. I was looking for the opposite effect, to be really close to this couple. It was also a way to illustrate their isolation, to show that they didn’t lack the means to escape this weight but that they were so immersed in their suffering that they didn’t realise that the solution was close at hand. During the writing I already knew that I had to embody in images this semi-feeling of claustrophobia. It was quickly apparent that this wouldn’t work if I filmed Unspoken in the same way as Someone Else’s Happiness. By keeping my distance I might have been able to get close to what this couple was feeling, but not to know them.

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This mise en scène associated with the idea of slowly revealing why they are in this state pushes the film towards a certain strangeness, almost towards the oppressiveness of a fantasy or suspense film. Someone Else’s Happiness already strove to cloud the issue with a realistic set­ ting, filmed with a touch of surrealism…

I encountered more obstacles going in that direction with Unspoken. The story was already very heavy and highly atmospheric in itself. I asked myself what I could do to reshape that heaviness a little. In the script there were more scenes tending to a slight absurdity, in order to destabilise the viewer, so that they ask themselves if they have the right to laugh during such a tragic story. But I quickly realised that I had to stay focused on these two people, that I should not spread myself too thinly. Even so, I like having the power to decide that, at a certain moment, one can take a break from the painful aspects, to allow oneself to breathe a little thanks to a touch of humour. I allowed myself that liberty much more in Someone Else’s Happiness, with some scenes that I found really funny, but they were not well-received, perhaps because some people were irritated by having to forgive themselves for laughing while the general tone of the film was dark. I still think that this brings you closer to the characters, that by feeling a certain unease you can share their discomfort. I don’t make realist films but I include in my films the absurdity that occurs in life. If one understood everything that happened, life would no longer be very meaningful. Is that why in the end, in your two films, whatever happens life goes on and takes the upper hand?

There is a little of that. My films don’t reflect how I see life but how it is in concrete terms. Of course the loss of a child is something that changes you for a long time, but it is only one aspect of life among so many others. You shot Unspoken with French actors, in French. What did that change, when you come from another culture?

I wrote this film with Bruno Todeschini and Emmanuelle Devos in mind. I didn’t choose the language because it would have an artistic value, I didn’t say to myself that I would shoot this film in French because it was more interesting than English or Chinese. It could equally well have been with American actors, but it turned out that those who seemed ideal to me for these roles were French. In any case everything rests on the script. If it had been useless, that would have produced a useless film regardless of which language it was shot in. My fear was more to find out whether directing actors in French, thinking in a language other than my own, would change my way of working, particularly since I had written the script in Dutch. In the event, it changed nothing. 1998 — Verbrande aarde (short) 1999 — Wooww (short) 2000 — Maria (short) 2001 — Cool Sam & Sweet Suzie (short) 2005 — Someone Else’s Happiness (Een ander zijn geluk) 2008 — Unspoken

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2008 — Unspoken


Dorothée van den Berghe 

°1969

After studying at the Sint Lukas Academy in Brussels, Dorothée van den Berghe made several short films, many of them selected by international festivals. She also made documentaries for, amongst others, Dutch public broadcaster VPRO, all of which contributed to her reputation. After Girl, she has just finished her second feature film, My Queen Karo. —


2002 — Girl

How did you become a director?

First of all I did painting and sculpture. I liked that a lot, but I couldn’t fully express myself. The idea of movement was missing: a painting, just like a statue, doesn’t move. One day someone reminded me that it was with the cinema that you can make images move, and I said to myself that this was the discipline for me. And it was true: I was much more comfortable with filmmaking than sculpture, because I could finally tell stories. This medium made me feel at home. Feeling at home, that’s exactly the backdrop of your films…

That isn’t intentional. Sometimes one is submerged by something profound that comes from within, no matter what happens. If I step back a bit, I can see that I always tell the same story, but written differently in each film. I’m not sure that there are conscious reasons for that. The idea of knowing where one’s place is certainly interests me, but is there really a reason for that interest? I don’t know… Perhaps it comes from my relationship with my mother: she had me when she was very young, and as a result I saw her grow up and find her bearings. My films are nurtured by my own search. My characters are a mix of what I am looking for from others and a projection of what I know.

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You were born in Belgium but you grew up in the Netherlands. Is that search connected with that itinerary?

Naturally it has influenced my work. At the time, being Belgian in Amsterdam was like being Turkish or Moroccan: you weren’t welcome. Very early on I experienced a sort of nostalgia for Belgium. I returned to live there later, with the immediate feeling of a sort of exoticism. I had practically become a foreigner in my own country. The Belgians who I met bore no resemblance to the Dutch people I knew. That fed into the way I work: I pretend that I know nothing of my character’s world and pose as someone curious, observing how it works. Besides, that is more or less the story I tell in Girl: a girl discovering the world to which she is going to belong, In Girl you don’t just film the development of one woman, but three, of different ages and from different backgrounds...

We see things differently according to our age and our experience. We don’t have the same point of view on the same event if it happens to us at the beginning, middle or towards the end of our lives. I’m very interested by the fact that there is only one reality, but it can be perceived differently according to who is living it. When you are young you have energy, the desire to change the world and to find love. At a certain moment, that desire is checked, particularly with women. It has nothing to do with feminism, but I find that bizarre and I wanted to explore that on the screen, for example with the 60-year-old woman who rediscovers this feeling of desire in her love life and her professional life. I liked the idea that she connects with what is happening to her daughter, who has just set out on an adventure, that they come together in the desire to change things. Yet you don’t film these desires in a way that depends on the charac­ ters…

I would love to make a film following three women where each would have her own story, her own destiny, but at the time of Girl I didn’t have enough experience to do it. This sort of narrative structure would have been much too complicated for me to put into place. It would have brought a different view on each character in Girl, particularly when it came to the love scenes. Those of the young girl are much rawer than those of her mother, simply because the sexuality of people of her age is an unusual subject and not one that you see often at the cinema. On set, even I was a bit embarrassed by it, to the point that I asked myself whether or not we would shoot those scenes. I’m interested by the image of the body on screen, but that did not show through in the script. It was during the casting that I asked myself how I was going to film them. We talked about it with the actresses during the tests and we looked for a direction to go in. To a certain extent the film is the result of that exploration. Everything was built in collaboration with the actresses: they set the limits of how much of their bodies they wanted to show, up to the scene with the scanner, where the actress chose precisely the way in which she wanted her body to be depicted. But I have to add that this freedom also comes from the fact that the actresses that I choose are often dancers, like Charlotte Vanden Eynde who played Muriel. I like their way of being, of not having hang-ups about their bodies. This gives an additional side to the characters, making them exist as much in a cerebral way as in a physical way. That’s fundamental in a film like Girl…

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…Which is a fiction. Before then you directed documentaries such as Kamermeisjes, on the daily routine of chambermaids. What difference do you see between these two ways of treating things?

To my mind, Girl is to a certain extent a documentary. I did an enormous amount of research and I observed people a lot for this film. I even tried to bring the form more towards that of documentary. For Kamermeisjes I wanted the content of the film to be led by the women I was filming, so that it should be a real collaboration. I tried to reproduce in images what they wanted to confide about their lives. Ultimately, my crew and I were only there to create a frame in which their context could appear. In both cases it is a question of something that touches me deeply: the vulnerability of people. That can be felt a little more in a documentary, because the people you are filming can speak for themselves. Fiction sometimes tries to recreate this naturalness, this truth, but it is better when it comes from the people themselves, as is the case in a documentary. In Girl, however, these women appear increasingly strong. It is the men here who appear vulnerable, particularly in their relationship with fa­ therhood…

Motherhood is a very important thing for women because it involves the decision of whether or not to have children. I think that fatherhood is no less important for men, but it’s a question that is dealt with much less often. I tried to put the male and female characters on the same level on this question, for instance by a transmission of information between them. At the same time, when I speak to a man I always have the impression that he is more stable than a woman. I’d love to make a film which would be a portrait of men in all their complexity. But to do that I would have to learn to know them as much as I know women (laughs). That said, having a child puts a man or a woman on an equal footing: when you become a mother or a father, your view of the world changes completely, as does the way other people see you. It is a rare moment where a psychological balance is created between men and women. It is one of the things that I wanted to show in Girl. Did you want to pursue that theme in My Queen Karo, in which you observe a couple through the eyes of their young daughter…

My Queen Karo is different from Girl, but at the same time not so very different. It is a much more autobiographical film. After Girl, a friend said to me “Why are you telling other people’s stories when your own is so rich?” I thought that perhaps he was right and so I embarked on this portrait of the 1970s, seen from a very subjective angle, that of a little girl who looks at the people around her, and her parents in particular. It is about a Belgian family that arrives in Amsterdam and goes to live in a community, in a squat. They have strong ideals and they try to live according to them, but they quickly realise that it is very complicated, because of the complexity of the relationships between people. That learning process is as difficult for the parents as it is for their child. There is a lot of my own childhood in this film, but all the same it remains for the most part fictional. So you have more or less lived through that period. Is that where the recurring subject of ideals in your films comes from?

It’s a good thing to have ideals, but how should they be applied? I find it bizarre that my parents’ generation should have been against rules but at the same time tried to live in a context governed by rules. At no point did I want to make fun of 126


2009 — My Queen Karo

it, but for example in My Queen Karo the little girl goes to a so-called progressive school where the idea is to say that there is no pre-set educational model. The idea is interesting, but my film shows that it only results in complete chaos. And yet, schools exist today that are inspired by that model and they function. So perhaps the way that ideals are put into practice is a principle to follow, above all now, at a moment when everyone is trying to preserve their little territory, where the initiatives aimed at solving collective problems are more and more limited. I often have the impression that the current context is not so very far from that of the family in My Queen Karo, but that in contrast to their time, the walls have gone up. It has become difficult to fight because the reference points are harder and harder to grasp. When I disagree with a situation, I always try to ask myself if I really have all the information in hand to understand it. My films are driven by that question. 1993 — Bekentenissen (short) 1994 — Rue Verte (short) 1995 — Keer uw boot om en bid (short) 1998 — Brussels Midnight (Bruxelles minuit, short) 2000 — Kamermeisjes (documentary) 2001 — Het achterland (TV movie) 2002 — Girl (Meisje) 2006 — Absolutely Afro (Kroeskop, short) 2007 — Zoe (short) 2009 — My Queen Karo

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2009 — My Queen Karo


felix van groeningen 

°1977

With a degree from the Fine Arts Academy (KASK) in Ghent, Felix van Groeningen turned professional by working in the theatre and directing short films and music videos. His first feature film, Steve + Sky, went on to be awarded the Joseph Plateau Prize for Best Belgian Film in 2004. After With Friends Like These, he has just finished his third feature, The Misfortunates. —


2004 — Steve + Sky

2007 — With Friends Like These

Why did you become a director?

When I was little my parents said that I was born to be an actor. From the age of eight or nine I tried out the stage, but I didn’t really feel at ease there. My mother became a set designer for television, then a grip on entertainment programmes. I always went along with her, to get into the production box. I loved looking at the screens. At 16, at school, I took an option to learn video, and then enrolled in film school, and that was that… When one puts your first two films, Steve + Sky and With Friends Like These, side by side a clear impression emerges that the first allowed you to experiment with direction, the second with writing…

When I tackled the filming of Steve + Sky I wasn’t entirely sure of mastering its direction, so I threw myself into it with an open heart. The critical reception the film received forced me to admit that it was also necessary for me to know how to master a script. Writing Steve + Sky had been very laborious, very painful. The

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need to work in collaboration with someone else on With Friends Like These quickly became apparent. A first film is inevitably a mountain that you have to climb. Until it came out I told myself that I wasn’t going to get through it. The task was less arduous on my second film and I think that I’m coping well with the third, which I am finishing at the moment, but that is also due to the reception of Steve + Sky, which pushed me to work harder and longer on the mise en scène and the script. In the end I understood that the mechanisms of writing and mise en scène, particularly during the editing, are ultimately quite similar. Still, on The Misfortunates, my latest film, even though I thought I had a perfectly finished script I’ve just changed the structure from top to bottom during the editing. The most tangible difference between Steve + Sky and With Friends Like These is in the feeling that the second film is much more personal. Is that the case?

When I start to write a film I’m incapable of knowing what it will be like. My thoughts about its style, its composition come gradually with the writing. Today I’m no longer afraid, and I ask myself much less often whether my films are going to look like me, whether I will find a part of myself in them. At the time of Steve + Sky, I was looking for myself, I didn’t know exactly who I was, so it’s logical that that film should be more impersonal, that you can feel its outside influences. The strangest thing remains the nostalgia that emanates from With Friends Like These, even though you are still a young director.

Something of the sort appeared during the writing of the film, but it’s also down to the contribution of Arne Sierens, my co-writer, who is in his forties and a little older than I am. This nostalgia clearly runs through his work. Beyond that, it took two years to write this script and during that time you naturally end up looking at what is going on around you and wondering about your own maturation. Originally these characters were going to be younger than they ended up becoming. At a certain moment I found it stupid that they should be of my generation and be like me. The nostalgia in With Friends Like These has nothing to do with the fact that, at the age of 25, you suddenly realise that you have grown old and that it is necessary to face up to new responsibilities, but that you are no longer an adolescent. This probably comes from its visible influences, but Steve + Sky is more marked by its roots in a cinephile culture, while With Friends Like These is more autobiographical. Would you say that your films reflect your identity at the time you are making them?

My identity is very strong, so I have to do something with it, to use it, if only because it contributes to a sort of authenticity in my films. I can’t really explain why, but I know that the more I make films, the more things from my childhood rise to the surface. Enthusiasm for films, that’s different connection. Every year I am particularly touched by one, two or three films, which continue to live in me and which I use in my work, whether as a cinematographic reference point or a writing reference point. Again, I can’t explain why, but for a certain period of time these films are very important to me, as if they broaden the options available when it comes to my way of filmmaking. But, as I get older, that link becomes denser, becomes more complex.

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Now that you are a director, has the view that you have on some of these films changed?

It is exactly there that this complexity expresses itself. For the one or two years during which I’m nearly obsessed with a film, I maintain an almost constant contact with it. It will be permanently on my computer, I’ll watch it 30 or 40 times. But once that period of time passes, if I happen to see it again I still know why I love it, but whatever it was that made it essential has vanished. What have films by other directors taught you about your craft?

The state of admiration into which certain films plunges me leads me to dissect them, to try to understand why I find them beautiful, why they touch me so deeply. That cannot but have a subsequent impact on my work. It’s not that I look to reproduce what has marked me, but let’s say that it stimulates me to go further. Steve + Sky quickly made its mark in film festivals. What did that change for you in your approach as a director?

Mainly I was disillusioned. Since I had such a positive response to Steve + Sky from the festivals, I thought that the film was going to work in cinemas, which wasn’t the case. But that commercial failure was ultimately a good thing, since it put my feet back on the ground. It was then, when the reviews of Steve + Sky appeared, that I realised that I had to get back to work on my technique. But ultimately you do more soul searching when you make a film than when it comes out. Steve + Sky focuses on a couple, while there are many more principal characters in With Friends Like These. How do you pass from one to the other?

It was more complicated with Steve + Sky. I was used to managing several characters in my short films, but since I wanted to tell a love story in this first film it seemed logical to focus essentially on two characters. With Friends Like These was like a sort of return to my roots. I was also probably more at ease there because I was on familiar ground, which is just how I feel about The Misfortunates, where once again there are several characters. If your first two films were a sort of apprenticeship, do you feel freer with the third?

Yes. At the same time I recall that once With Friends Like These was finished I was very very pleased with myself. The film corresponded to what I wanted to make of it, but I knew that it was not going to be liked by everybody, that there would be people for and against it. That proved to be the case when it came out. At that moment I was already working on The Misfortunates. The reactions to With Friends Like These, while more positive than those to Steve + Sky, still made me say to myself that I would really like to make a film that pleased everybody. I think that this is the lot of all young filmmakers, when what you wanted to put in a film comes up against the opinion of the audience. That doesn’t mean to say that I want to make compromises, but rather that I’m looking for solutions so that my films can stay in tune with my ideas while reaching a wider public. Anxiety about public recognition doesn’t often enter my mind when I’m planning a film, but it does more and more when it is finished.

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2007 — With Friends Like These

You are at this stage with regard to The Misfortunates…

…It’s a delicate moment. The first reactions are very good. The Misfortunates is finished and for the moment that’s fine with me. I don’t really want to see it again straight away. I need to let it live its life. I already feel the desire to write the fourth film, even though I don’t yet know what it will be about. 1999 — Truth or Dare (short) 2000 — 50cc (short) 2001 — Bonjour Maman (short) 2004 — Steve + Sky 2007 — With Friends Like These (Dagen zonder lief) 2009 — The Misfortunates (De helaasheid der dingen)

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2009 — The Misfortunates


pieter van hees 

°1970

After starting out in short filmmaking and commercials – winning numerous prizes in both cases – Pieter Van Hees entered the world of feature films with a trilogy, Anatomy of Love and Pain. Its first two parts, Left Bank and Dirty Mind, have been enthusiastically welcomed when appearing at international festivals. —


2009 — Dirty Mind

Why did you become a film director?

I love cinema. It’s my favourite pastime. When I was little, it was a constant struggle with my parents. My father would say: “It’s fine this afternoon, shall we go out?” and I would want to stay in front of the TV watching old films. The cinema gives me the same sensations as a good football match and the same frisson as attending an excellent concert. Only with films, it happens more often. Left Bank and Dirty Mind revolve around the idea of rediscovering feel­ ings.

Lots of people have told me that they find these two films very different, whereas they are effectively linked by that relationship with feelings. They function like the two hemispheres of a brain: one deals with instincts, one with emotions. I probably inherited that idea from my mother, who is a psychoanalyst. So that world is not unknown to me. Left Bank and Dirty Mind are the first two parts of a trilogy which you have called Anatomy of Love and Pain. How do these two themes come to­ gether for you?

They do more than come together. For me, they are intrinsically linked, because they are two extremes of a single thing. There is no love without pain at some time or another. A love without suffering cannot be real. In the same way, a state of

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psychological suffering only serves to reveal something of the self that one does not want to see, or not admit. The association of love and pain is like a path to the construction of the self. This is true of both their physical and psychological impacts: simply thinking that you have to go to the dentist can be painful, while the state of being in love can lead to profound changes. You eat, you think, you live differently, to the point sometimes of being psychologically transformed. Someone in love or suffering is not seen by other people in the same way as they are in their 'normal' state. All the same, these are intimate, interior feelings. Is it easy to transfer them to the screen?

I think so, yes, but on condition – as I’ve discovered in making these two films – that you go in the direction of a purely visceral, instinctive cinema, as unencumbered as possible by an intellectual approach. And when that has to be handled, I try to do it in the most basic way. You can express strong feelings, like anger, but stay within that viscerality. I like films where you have an almost physical impression of the emotions, so that the viewer has the feeling of being in contact with them. Perhaps because that approaches the reality of the man in the street. You are just trying to get by, to live with love and pain. Left Bank and Dirty Mind should be regarded a little bit like the experiments of a medical student trying to dissect the emotions, in an anatomical way. I have the same relationship with writing. It passes through my visual imagination. When I write, I see the film before I see the characters. These two films also keep up a real rapport with the cinema: Left Bank in slipping progressively towards a horror fantasy style, Dirty Mind by taking place in the world of stuntmen.

I’m probably going to say something funny, but to my mind the form, the genre of a film isn’t really very important. I try to get into the minds of the characters, which evidently implies a particular way of seeing things. In Left Bank, this woman is consumed by paranoia, and as a consequence you go towards the psychological thriller, the horror film, even slasher movies. In Dirty Mind, you are following a man whose brain is deranged by an illness that makes his behaviour uncontrollable, a situation that I find funny and sad at the same time. Hence this mix of comedy and drama. My films echo the situations experienced by the characters… They are in opposition in the two films: the main character of Left Bank is as much a passive victim as the one in Dirty Mind is someone who pro­ vokes events…

It could have been the reverse, particularly because during the writing of Dirty Mind my main problem was that this man remained a victim because he suffered from his illness. It was much less interesting to tell his story from that point of view. So I focused on whether or not he was willing to undergo an operation, his ability to take control of his own destiny. In the same way, in Left Bank Marie consciously chooses not to leave her building, to stay with the man she has met. Let us say that if she is a victim, it is of her own choosing. In my mind, the common point between these two characters is in their willingness to find another side of themselves, their insistence on following this path in spite of the difficulties it brings their way.

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2008 — Left Bank

2009 — Dirty Mind

We get a particularly strong view of their professions. Do you think that people are defined more by their environment than by who they re­ ally are?

Not necessarily. It’s more a script device. I’m impressed by the ability of the American cinema to build characters from their social environments. A policeman or a trader in a Hollywood film will always be more believable than in a European film, because American scriptwriters and directors work so much on their characters’ settings that it becomes a factor that aids understanding and acceptance of what they are and of their motivations. I am always amazed by this way of constructing a universe that the viewer can accept straightaway. It’s a real struggle for me. When I see my films again, I still find that certain elements are too theoretical. I hope to be able to go a lot further on the purely cinematographic aspects, to put aside even more than before the narrative side, such as dialogue. Sometimes it is enough to rethink a scene so that it doesn’t rely on the script: a close-up or a well-chosen setting can replace – because it signifies – entire lines of dialogue. This is something I’m learning with my films. My work is a sort of work in progress. Is it for that reason that your films tell the stories of social groups rather than single people?

Since Left Bank and Dirty Mind talk about love, they clearly have to feature a relationship between at least two characters. The one I put opposite the lead role is always easier for me to write, because their trajectory is less important than that of the other. I’m a scriptwriter by necessity, first of all because I feel that I’m more of a director, but then because I generally don’t have the resources to pay a scriptwriter to write my films. Devising a credible lead character is a real trial for me. As a result I get around this problem a bit by shifting the problems of the lead character to the secondary characters. That I can deal with. I see that principle in literature, for example in the novels of Hugo Claus or William Faulkner, this capacity to explore a situation through a small community, to make them reflect a more global situation...

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…Which could be, in the case of your films, that of Belgian identity, split between two communities.

What’s more I’ve never had so many problems as I did in the neighbourhood where I shot Left Bank. Its inhabitants were very hostile to the arrival of people that they did not know, strangers to their routines… The story told by Dirty Mind has a typically Flemish side to it: a guy who has everything he wants suffers the jealousy of the people around him, who stigmatise his differentness. In Flemish there is a saying that can be translated into English as “Acting like everyone else, that would already be something”. To a certain extent these films confront that anxiety and the openness to others that you have to have in order to be in love, even if that feeling strips you bare. My feature films, like my short films, are like fables in this respect. It isn’t cinema in the style of the Dardenne brothers or Mike Leigh, because it has this larger-than-life side. My ideal, even though it is a long way off, would be to succeed in making films which would be like Beatles songs: something that functions at different levels, which goes from one register to another, such as when they use Indian instruments and then an orchestra in the same piece of music without anyone realising. Or even like the records of David Bowie, the books of William Burroughs or the architecture of the 1960s: they have the feeling of going in all directions at once, but in fact they are always based on the idea of openness. In this context why did you create ‘Trauma 99’, a set of cinematographic rules?

Oh, that was just a joke. At the time when I was making short films, Lars von Trier’s Dogme movement happened. The more I liked the films that it produced, because it was clear that the manifesto was a farce, the more I was alarmed to see the extent to which it was taken at face value. I must have a slightly punk side, since when things are taken seriously to such an extent I like to take the opposite view. It’s a way of going against imposed rules. The astonishing thing was to see the extent to which ‘Trauma 99’ was also taken seriously. I was contacted by journalists from around the world, from Flanders to South Korea, who wanted me to explain what it meant. Besides that, it made me realise that you can still create, even with marketing methods such as Dogme, room to experiment for filmmaking that is a bit out of the ordinary. Filmmakers such as Spike Jonze, Jonathan Glazer and Paul Thomas Anderson work in this way with films that I find incredible and particularly encouraging for directors like myself. 1994 — Mr. Impossible (short) 1996 — Eenzaamheid is des mensen (short) 1997 — Big in Belgium (short) 1999 — I Spy (short) 1999 — Belgium Strikes Back (short) 1999 — Black XXX-Mas (short) 2000 — Penalty (short) 2008 — Left Bank (Linkeroever) 2009 — Dirty Mind

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2009 — Dirty Mind


Hans van nuffel 

°1981

Hans Van Nuffel’s graduation short, The End of the Ride, got him a Wildcard from the Flanders Audiovisual Fund. It gave him the necessary seed funding to make his first short as a professional, FAL. He’s currently working on a new short as well as on his feature debut, Sharks Keep Moving.


2005 — The End of the Ride

Why did you become a director?

As a child I was always the one who organised my friends when we were playing in the park. Most of the time we recreated scenes from films, mainly from war movies. Particularly battle scenes where everyone dies and the hero launches into huge speeches. I was always the one who chose who would play what. My desire to be a director therefore began quite early (laughs). However you first went towards acting.

Around the same age, at eight or nine, I was signed up for acting lessons, until the age of 15. I couldn’t stand the directors that I worked with, and in a sense I gave up my position as an actor in order to take a turn at directing. I directed a play for the company in which I acted, and that was a good experience, which brought back the games I played as a child. As a result I enrolled in film school, but curiously I still think that the most important element in a film remains the actors, because they bring to life the stories that directors want to tell. To a certain extent it’s an advantage to have been an actor. I know what a vulnerable state they can experience, their feelings laid bare. Your short films nevertheless use lots of other qualities besides the ac­ tors. I saw The End of the Ride without subtitles, and not speaking Dutch was not a handicap, because the range of emotions was expressed as much by the use of sound, colour and atmosphere as by the dialogue…

While studying film you learn lots of theory, but you also spend a lot of time with the other students. In my case, I think I spent almost a year thinking about the form of our future films and making the first attempts on video. That was the case with this one. It was all time gained when the moment came to begin the ‘real’ filmmaking. We already had answers to most of our questions, and so we had the time to polish the smallest detail, to make our work evolve. For example, if the manner of filming is not very usual for a short film it is because we used the more traditional way in the first sketches, before trying something different. The final result is practically a collage of all our experiments. In the same way, my director of photography’s studies in painting evidently contributed to the texture she gave to the visuals and the composition of certain shots in this short film. The same

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2005 — The End of the Ride

goes for the music. I spent several days with the composer and we came back with around 10 hours of music for 14 minutes of film. The End of the Ride and FAL both fall into the area of genre cinema, while changing their conventions…

I’m completely addicted to genre cinema. It’s a terrible cliché, but Pulp Fiction was a huge revelation for me. With that film I discovered a form of independent American cinema, in a post-modern vein, which plays with conventions. That’s clearly what I’m looking for in my films, that possibility of working in a well-defined genre in order to break its rules. I’m astounded by what certain South Korean directors, like Park Chan-Wook and Kim Ki-Duk, are doing in this area. You always know where you are when their films start, but you’re unable to tell where they are going to lead you. In the case of short films, there is also a time constraint: time is short, so why not try to change direction with the medium by twisting the rules to create an unusual atmosphere? Is that why these two short films constantly play with an alternation: in the setting, one passes regularly from interiors to exteriors, but also with your characters, who are strongly fixed in the present but prisoners of the past?

The short film is a deceptive exercise since by definition it is short. So it is difficult to put everything into it that you want to. But you can also change direction, for example by making rapid references to the characters’ pasts, which can lead to additional psychological depth. I don’t like short films that are happy to work on a single idea or setting. It is more interesting to try to create a real universe, even if the limited time available means that you can’t fully develop it. Hence the idea in these two films of situating them at the final moment of a conflict, in order to be able to link the ins and outs of a situation, while at the same time concentrating on a crucial moment. Then the form, whether that is music, sound or the images, is also there to give the maximum amount of information on the characters, so that one can understand through these signs who they are and where they come from. As such, I prefer expressionism to impressionism: a story shouldn’t be told in a neutral environment. On the contrary it must define something about the characters.

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2007 — FAL

Even so, you never clearly specify where these two short films take place.

That’s because I find Belgium difficult to represent formally. There is no typically Belgian decor, it’s even a rather monotonous place in terms of landscapes: mainly farms or pseudo-towns, with the exception of Brussels. So, it’s a small country shared by different communities. At the same time, since I grew up in a small village, the towns and their buildings fascinate me. Otherwise, I find that it’s easier to immerse yourself in a situation if it takes place somewhere which is not very definite and hard to identify. That’s as long as you don’t want to recount very realistic events, linked to a given situation. But I prefer to stay in something a little vague, because that stimulates the imagination. FAL however clearly refers to Rwanda…

That’s true, but again does one have to be kept up to date with what happened in Rwanda? Otherwise, you are just in a strange house, with a no-less strange shooting gallery in the basement. Now, FAL was inspired by two influences. First, the arrival in my village of a Tutsi refugee, who told me stories about what happened in his country. Then my nephew, who at the time was going out with a girl whose father had installed a shooting gallery in his cellar. This guy was often away in the Cayman Islands, and so left his daughter and my nephew in the house. So I started with these two authentic stories and made a fiction out of them… …Which like The End of the Ride leaves off-screen events which affect the characters.

There are two replies to that: on the one hand, the idea of having limited time which we talked about just now; on the other, the fact that suggesting things is always more effective than showing everything. Lots of films fall into that trap by underlining and over-explaining things. I prefer to be as oblique as possible. Is that the reason your next short film will be a vampire story, in which there is no need to explain such well-established folklore?

Yes and no. It will be a vampire story, but from an existentialist point of view, about a woman who discovers that she is a vampire, but rejects it, and her lover who absolutely wants to become one. Beneath the genre, this short film will deal with an identity crisis. It’s a subject about which I ask myself questions every day. My first feature, which should start shooting in November, will also tackle this theme, 150


but through the daily struggle to survive of two people afflicted by an incurable disease. They hate each other because, to a certain extent, the disease has made them rivals thanks to their compatibility with a single organ donor. A professor has to decide which of the two will receive the organs. I find this project fascinating because, for the people who have read the script, it resonates with things they don’t want to see. Even if it moves from a dark tonality to moments of comedy. This is thanks to Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem [editor’s note: writer of Moscow, Belgium] who kept the sense of the story while lightening it considerably. The script immediately became more accessible to the general public, without in the least compromising what I wanted to say with it. Will this feature film highlight the more sombre aspects of your short films, where in one way or another it’s all about death?

It will be much more direct on this subject, because we are in a strange time where, even if you know that you can’t be immortal, life expectancy is longer and longer. From now on reaching the age of 90 is almost normal, yet at the same time it is becoming more and more complicated to talk about death. People think they are increasingly modern and open, but this remains practically a taboo subject, probably because of the remains of our cultural foundations in Catholicism. You only have to look at people’s behaviour at funerals, where they are often uneasy in the expression of their feelings, perhaps because whatever makes a connection with death brings us forcibly back to the limits of humankind’s capacity to survive. Our societies really have to be capable of starting genuine discussions on these subjects. I’ve no answer to give with my films, since the advances in science and medicine seem to be changing all the time, but I hope that they will lead people to reflect. 2005 — The End of the Ride (Het einde van de rit, short) 2007 — FAL (short) 2010 — Nachtwezen (short) 2010 — Sharks Keep Moving (Haaien moeten blijven bewegen)

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christophe van rompaey 

°1970

With a degree from the RITS school of audiovisual arts, Christophe Van Rompaey made three short films between 1996 and 2001, all acclaimed in festivals for their direction. First assistant on numerous feature films, he started out as a director and scriptwriter on Flemish television, where he made soaps and comedy series. Moscow, Belgium, his first feature film for the cinema, was one of the biggest successes in Flanders during 2008. —


2008 — Moscow, Belgium

Why did you become a film director?

Since I was little I was interested in music. I played in quite a few groups, and I built a little studio at home. After college I wanted to study something where I could work with sound. The only place where that was possible at the time was at film school. It was there that I discovered that you can have a special rapport with images. So, why not use them as well? Even so, sound and music remain a fundamental area for me. In your short films as well as in Moscow, Belgium, certain scenes are linked to music. Was that a way of prolonging this connection?

With Moscow, Belgium yes. It wasn’t written into the script, but when reading it I had certain music in mind. It helped me recount the journey made by Matty and Johnny. By using songs practically in the film you can explain lots of things, like the passing of time, the evolving relationship between this woman and this man. Sound in cinema is such an important thing that I sometimes force myself to go through the process of watching a film with the sound off, in order to be sure that the images say something. On my films, that allows me to check what is gained and lost in the narrative through the sound effects and the music.

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Moscow, Belgium is unusual in featuring a particular language, the Ghent dialect. Did that also contribute a sort of musicality?

When I said just now that the script made me think of particular music, it wasn’t orchestral pieces but simple compositions that I imagined being played by a gypsy violin or an accordion. Music very close to the people, to the street, which seems to me to resonate with this dialect. Curiously, if they are marked by this cultural identity, it is the univer­ sality that touched viewers of Moscow, Belgium…

In an initial version of the script there were references to things that were purely Flemish, like a TV series very popular in Belgium. In Flanders that allusion in the dialogue would pose no problem, but it wouldn’t work in Holland or in France. That sort of detail distanced me from the film, even when reading the script, because as well as giving it a strong cultural stamp, it inevitably ends up dating the film, limiting its reach and so restricting the potential audience. Various film genres interest me, from thrillers to science fiction, but for a film to be good it is important that its structure and its characters should be as simple as possible, so that they are accessible to everyone. I’m very attached to that at the moment because I’ve been sent a Chinese script, and the question of its capacity to be understood elsewhere than in China is going to come up. In this script there are some very simple things, and I think I understand what they mean, but I’m not sure because I don’t have the cultural baggage to understand where they come from. That is perhaps why American films are so successful in Europe, we have common roots, while Chinese or Indian cinema still has difficulty finding great success here. Looking at it from the other side, when Moscow, Belgium came out, were you surprised that the public flocked to see it, that they recognised themselves in the film?

At first, yes. Towards the end of the film’s development process I had been indoctrinated by the distributors, who all said that Moscow, Belgium had limited potential because it had little-known actors and, on top of that, it was in a dialect rarely used outside its home region. Happily, Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem, the co-writer and producer, insisted from the beginning that we remain authentic. He knew that, beneath the surface, the story told by the film could touch everybody. One of the first audiences for Moscow, Belgium was the international press at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008…

That was very intense. I’d already been to Cannes, but not to present a film. It was as if I was caught up in the snowball effect that the festival set off around Moscow, Belgium. After Cannes I received invitations from lots of other festivals. At the same time I was in the process of preparing Blanco, one of my next films. It was expected that we would shoot the following winter, but at the end of August it became clear that it would have to be later because the finance wasn’t in place. But since I had obtained subsidies for the film, it was impossible to branch off into another project. So I travelled a lot to promote Moscow, Belgium to distributors at festivals. That was both an odd and an enriching experience. I had a certain idea of what agents and distributors could do for a foreign film, but working with them opened new perspectives for me. I know that’s going to help me with my subsequent films. But the Cannes effect also brought something unexpected: everyone

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thought that I was extremely busy and no-one dared call me. On the other hand, I received lots of scripts through agents, four or five a week. They came from all over, from America as well as from China. The majority were really useless because they concentrated on effects rather than on characters. As a result, we started out again on something with Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem, and that is in the process of being written. Is it not a paradox that Moscow, Belgium became a highly recognised film yet it did not help complete the financing of Blanco?

The fact that Blanco is a totally different project from Moscow, Belgium has something to do with that. While it would be ideal for me to change style, the financiers prefer that I make a Moscow, Belgium 2. It was suggested that I remake it in the USA or make a TV series out of it here, in Belgium, but where is the interest in that? Blanco is once again a simple story, but in a much darker tone, a psychological thriller. Some producers said that they were interested on the strength of the success of Moscow, Belgium, but once they realised that Blanco was not the same, they become reticent. So it was put on ice until further notice. Blanco seems to be more of a genre film, with all the conventions that that implies. Do you see it as a different kind of work from that which you accomplished on Moscow, Belgium?

It’s true that genre cinema calls upon pre-established formulae, but the script that I have written for Blanco plays with them, and turns them upside down. And I kept some of the qualities of Moscow, Belgium: this story, that of a father and son, is minimalist and very local, but it remains universal because it concerns very current feelings of fear and paranoia. The genre permits me to add a certain atmosphere, which to my mind is very important in this film. It is precisely that atmosphere that I want to put in place. I want the direction to embrace and follow the way the psychology of the characters changes. Moscow, Belgium was made in practically the opposite way, it was the story which drove things. Except when it came to the light and the costumes, the direction did not follow the development of Matty and Johnny. A genre film allows you to go much further in that direction, and that interests me. Unfortunately, Blanco will cost more to make than Moscow, Belgium. If fear runs through Blanco, one could also say that this was the case with Moscow, Belgium which also tells the story of a woman who is afraid to be herself. Why does this subject interest you?

I’m very curious to know how interior mechanisms govern people’s lives. When they speak, I always try to see what they really want to say. In which ever world a film takes place, the moment that it has that dimension, it interests me. I always ask myself how I am going to relate something which can remain close to the viewer. The idea of Blanco comes from a Flemish novel, written by an author who has the gift of being able to give the reader the feeling for being inside the head of his characters. It is very strange to recognise oneself in their way of thinking, right up to the moment when the novel goes over the edge and the central character goes mad. I loved being so hooked by that book, I wanted to understand why that man changes at that moment. There is a real challenge in translating the force of that writing into images. It’s impossible to use the same method, with a permanent voice-over. 156


2008 — Moscow, Belgium

Since we are talking about the impact of a work, has the success of Moscow, Belgium, your first film, had one on you?

This success has confirmed one thing for me: you must remain true to yourself. It took me nearly ten years to make my first film, in part because I am very stubborn. Towards the end, I often asked myself whether it was the right choice, and constructive, nearly at the age of 40 to be making this first film in the Flemish film industry, which is not the biggest in the world… The history of Moscow, Belgium persuades me not to doubt myself, to work even more, for example by becoming, against my better judgement, script doctor on the proposals I receive. I can’t just reply: “No thank you, this project doesn’t interest me”. From now on I feel obliged to explain why, to justify myself by pointing out in detail why I don’t want to do it. 1996 — Grey (Grijs, short) 2000 — Ex.#N°1870-4 (short) 2001 — Oh My God?! (short) 2003 — Team Spirit-the series (TV mini-series) 2005 — Team Spirit-the series II (TV mini-series) 2005 — Halleluja! (TV series, 8 episodes) 2008 — Moscow, Belgium (Aanrijding in Moscou) 2008 — Missing Persons Unit (Vermist, TV series, 3 episodes) 2010 — Blue Birds 2011 — Blanco

157


2008 — Moscow, Belgium


wim vandekeybus 

°1963

After unfinished studies in psychology, Wim Vandekeybus went on to take courses in theatre. He became an assistant to the choreographer Jan Fabre, who took him into his troupe. The experience he gained there as a dancer led him to found his own company, Ultima Vez, for which he created numerous performances, earning a global reputation. A collaborator with noted musicians and artists, Vandekeybus has also received recognition for the short films he uses in his performances, and for two features drawing on the same material. He is currently preparing Galloping Mind, his first feature conceived for the cinema. —


2007 — Here After

You are a photographer, choreographer, filmmaker… How do you reply when people ask you what job you do? Artist?

Certainly not (laughs). I find artist much too bizarre as a term. At first I took photos and afterwards came to cinema with a different approach, thanks to my work in the worlds of theatre and dance. And since my films are also often adaptations of my performances, I believe I’m working differently from other filmmakers. Blush and The Last Words are not ordinary film fictions. What’s more, since I direct my own dancers, I know them well and so I can retain a certain energy. Blush was shot in nine days. Well, that is probably also to do with its financing: my films are often made with a portion of the money given for my stage productions… You also use images a great deal in your performances. What does the cin­ ema allow you to say in a better way than your stage productions?

They are really very different media. I’m very suspicious of the relationship between them. Filming people on stage and then projecting the film on a screen is not very interesting, because they are two realities that have nothing to do with one another. A performance is in direct contact with reality, while the cinema has another energy, no less interesting when it allows a window to be opened on the unconscious. But combining the two is possible. In one of my performances, I made the dancers run up to a screen where images were projected that prolonged

162


their movements. One can pass from a concrete reality into the virtual. I see the cinema as an experience linked more to the imagination, a means of communication surpassing all the rest. A child who doesn’t know how to read or write can understand the emotions transmitted by a film. Dance is an art that I use, but in its purest form it’s not my scene because people hide behind its symbolism. Classical dance is one of the most tedious things. Is it for that reason that your films use a sense of intensity rather than a script or dialogue?

I’ve never really worried about the plotting of my films, but rather about what they convey in a visceral, hidden manner. I see dialogue as being a part of the soundtrack. I detest voice-overs because that always underlines the intentions of the filmmaker. I think that characters are enough to explain what you want to express in a film. In Galloping Mind, the film I’m working on at the moment, one of the central roles is a radio announcer who regularly interrupts, but as a spirit of free will. His voice is like a commentary on the images, which doesn’t seek to explain them and often goes counter to what they show. Nevertheless you have resorted to the most classical of references: Blush in part takes up the structure of Orpheus and Eurydice…

This is another story of the unconscious. We were working on the film when Peter Verhelst, a writer with whom I’ve often collaborated, pointed out that we were in the process of telling the story of Orpheus. I hadn’t realised. So you can say that Blush is a re-reading of Orpheus in the same way as Galloping Mind has something to do with Oedipus Rex, but in a way that is indirect. Filmmakers and choreographers alike are never free of influences in their creations, but I try to preserve in mine a primitive state, something instinctive to which I bring a more psychological aspect. That principle is also at the centre of Galloping Mind, which follows two children, twins, who will meet again years later without knowing what their link is, but who feel irresistibly drawn to one-another. This device recalls your original training, studying psychology. Does that have an influence on your films?

Not really. I tried several times to pass the exam, but at the third go I wanted to stop because I was not at all in agreement with what was involved, notably the intelligence tests. It’s a method which is based too much on objectivity, while I am profoundly subjective. When I stage a production, I have a different interaction with each dancer. For example, I will never say to one that he is working well, but I will to another. It’s a way of getting what I want by validating each person according to what I instinctively feel about them. Nevertheless there are some fascinating things in psychology, in terms of philosophy or in its purely hypothetical aspects. But it remains an inexact science, which you have to use in the cinema and the theatre because they are built on rules that it is necessary to circumvent, to break in order to re-invent them. Whether or not you like what someone like Lars von Trier does, he is very important because he has called into question the fundamental principles of cinema.

163


2005 — Blush

You are yourself at the mid-point of one of these principles: the rela­ tionship with the viewer. Your performances are played live before an audience, while your films are not. Do you see a difference between these two sorts of reception of your work?

I like shooting and editing my films very much, because I am their first audience. But I don’t linger over it: once I’ve finished one, I don’t see it again. Of course, I’m curious to know how viewers will receive them but I favour the first contact, that which occurs between the editor and myself during the assembly of the film, it’s there that I feel the energy that it will or won’t transmit. It’s probably for that reason that I tend more towards strong images than an explanatory narrative. Do you feel as if you make experimental films?

I hope that Galloping Mind, which will be my first real fiction, will remain accessible to the general public in spite of everything. I’m not going to push in that direction at any price, but neither do I want to make a film that will only appeal to an elitist audience. I experienced this problem with writing. It took me years to write things that anyone could read, while still remaining faithful to my vision of things. That said, I think that the general public today is ready to see films that are a little out of the ordinary. When Blush was selected by ACID at Cannes, I was delighted, yet at the same time I said to myself that it was rather strange that they should have chosen a film that didn’t have an ending – because I didn’t have enough money to shoot the one that I wanted (laughs). I think that today I know how to construct a story. In any case, that’s essential in order to find financial backers. I even think that I could make a film that had been written by someone else, or adapt a book. Going beyond cinematic conventions, your films have a very sensory side. You use colour and sound like narrative elements in themselves.

At that level, cinema is like painting, everything is a question of light and matter. On Blush, we sometimes waited for four hours to get the shade of natural light that we were looking for. We shot the underwater scenes in an aquarium which was going to be cleaned the following day. There was dolphin poo suspended in the water, and it was that which gave us that fantastic texture which we never could have reproduced. The cinema is not only an art for showing things. If you can make them feel different, or even conceal them, that’s also good. 164


One comes back to this idea of energy. In my films it also arises from the desire to work with the greatest number of people, whether dancers, actors, musicians or sound designers. They all allow me to go forward to something different. If, as I hope, I can go to Brazil to shoot Galloping Mind, I will have to use the feeling, the musicality of that country and its language. I don’t feel exclusively Flemish. I may have worked with people of all nationalities, Russian, Italian, English… but very few Flemish people. Following that, what does being Belgian mean to you?

I feel like a citizen of the world. I have nothing against cultural traditions, but on condition that they are used with the aim of opening up rather than retreating. There is neither glory nor shame in being Belgian because Belgium is an artificial country, in the positive sense of the term. The Germans, the English, the Italians all came here. I have Spanish and Dutch blood, but I’m Belgian. I’m so pleased that you didn’t ask what it meant to be Flemish. It would be much too complicated to reply! (laughs) Although there is a kind of answer to that in the fact that I choose to live in Brussels rather than in Antwerp. It’s a cosmopolitan town where lots of different social groups rub shoulders, where lots of different languages are spoken and it works very well that way. 1990 — Roseland (co-directed with Walter Verdin, short) 1992 — La mentira(co-directed with Walter Verdin, short) 1993 — Elba et Fédérico (short) 1994 — Mountains Made of Barking (short) 1996 — Bereft of a Blissful Union (short) 1996 — Dust (short) 1997 — Body, Body on the Wall (co-directed with Jan Fabre, short) 1999 — The Last Words (short) 2000 — Inasmuch... (short) 2001 — Silver (short) 2002 — In Spite of Wishing and Wanting (short) 2005 — Blush (short) 2007 — Here After (short)

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Photo credits Director portraits: Bart Dewaele Fred Debrock: p132 Steve + Sky; p132, 135 With Friends Like These Carl De Keyser: p48, 52-53 Altiplano Kris Dewitte: p64, 66-67 Happy Together; p102, 106-107 Lost Persons Area; p110, 112 Nowhere Man; p117, 120-121 Unspoken; p118 Someone Else’s Happiness Tim Dirven: p104 Lost Persons Area Ruben Impens: p154 Moscow Belgium Jean-Claude Lother: p18 Sister Smile Jo Voets: p83, 84 Ex Drummer; p127, 128-129 My Queen Karo; p140, 142, 144-145 Dirty Mind Sofie Silbermann: p22 Loft; p157 Moscow, Belgium Jean-Pierre Stoop: p162 Here After; p164 Blush Maarten Vanden Abeele: p97 Carlo; p98-99 The One Thing to Do Gaetan Verboven: p158-159 Moscow, Belgium p72 Alfred Hitchcock in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Number Twenty: Two, Courtesy of Universal All images in this book have been reproduced with the knowledge and prior consent of the producers and filmmakers concerned. No responsibility is accepted by producer, publisher or printer for any infringement of copyright or otherwise arising from the contents of this publication. Every effort has been made to ensure that credits accurately comply with information supplied.


BELGIAN CINEMA FROM FLANDERS Interviews with a new generation of filmmakers

Preface and interviews by Alex Masson Introduction by Staf Vanden Abele Translation: Ian Mundell Editorial coordination: Christian De Schutter Design coordination: Nathalie Capiau Book design and production: Gestalte/Grafische Vormgeving Thanks to Tine Coleman, Katrien Maes, An Ratinckx and Simon Wullens Printed by Drukkerij Wilda, Antwerp (Belgium) Printed on Phoenix Motion Xenon in 135g Original edition (French) first published in May 2009 First edition (English) published in September 2009 All rights reserved. No parts of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. Š 2009, FI Publishers For further information: www.flandersimage.com Legal Deposit: D/2009/10.114/2 ISBN/EAN: 9789081423335


BELGIAN CINEMA FROM FLANDERS  

Interviews with a new generation of filmmakers

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