Daniel Espinosa • Director
The energy of despair
by Anne Feuillère
The young director of Babylon Disease is like the characters of his film, grave and careless at the same time. Daniel Espinosa, half-Chilian, half Swedish, grew up in Africa and in the suburbs of Stockholm before he joined the National Danish Film School. He met Cineuropa at the Brussels European Film Festival.
Cineuropa: Babylon Disease is about the spleen of the younger generation in the Western world. How autobiographical is it?
Daniel Espinosa : A few years ago, I lived with some friends. We were quite a big bunch and at some point, we took in a 17-year-old girl. She lived with us for some time. A couple of years after that, she came back to see me and showed me a script inspired by our daily life. She was looking for someone to direct it and I was already at the Danish Film School so I gave her a few phone numbers. Two months after, she came back to tell me it was not working; she was not happy with these people and wanted me to do it. I am glad she did, for I must say I felt quite bad about the fact that she had not asked me in the first place! (laughs) We shot the next Summer, at the end of my school year, with the same group of school-mates who inspired the script.
Nearly everything is seen through Maja's eyes?
Camilla Hjelm Knudsen was the DP on my first short film, The Fighter (Le boxeur), which had a male main character. For my feature, I needed her to help me take on a more feminine angle. If Maja feels like watching a tea spoon, we let her do that. The idea was to make a subjective film with a feminine perspective.
The camera has a physical quality: it follows the movements of the body, reacts to movement in general...
For two weeks, before shooting, the actors played their characters continuously when they were around us. When we started shooting, we decided we would just let them live before the camera. They came in, took their time to get into each scene, and only then, we started filming. I did not want to direct them, tell them to stay in the light, etc. The camera stayed in the background and followed their movements. The film is physical because that is precisely what I wanted to film, that is, the repressed energy of my generation. Now that we have TVs and the internet, we cannot be so deluded as to still believe we can change the world. Thus, our desire to live and our idealism turn into apathy; it's the Babylon syndrom...I reckon each generation reminds the previous one of its ideals, which creates the dynamics on which progress is based, and now this dynamics is over.
You play a lot with the texture of the image, showing TV images or the blurry impersonal and suffocating ones which appear on security cameras. The cinemascope film itself is very grainy, which makes it lively. What camera did you use?
Super 16. The idea was to render a subjective view on the world, a view made of Maja's memories and impressions on the impersonal images we are imposed upon from the outside. To render that, we worked on colour, making certain sequences blue or green. That is the technique we used for the Maja-Paulie conversation-scene: the sound does not follow the image; the dialogue is continuous while the images change and several places are shown. The idea is that in fact, the memory of a conversation is not chronological. The way we remember where it takes place and in what order things are said is totally subjective.
In your film, time has an elastic quality (cf. the ellipses, cuts) which reminds of such Asian films as Chunking Express and Fallen Angels by Wong Kar Wai, for whom disillusion is also a central topic.
Indeed. I love Wong Kar Wai ! He is one of my models. The scene in which Maja is seen on her bed crying from a very special angle refers to In the mood for love. I hope the one day, I can be as good as him! Maybe for my third or fourth feature (laughs)!
Are you working on your next movie?
Yes, I am. It is called Ghetto and I am working with Daniel Dencik, the editor whose film Dark Horse [+see also:
film profile] inspired the main character. Ghetto is about a Jewish teacher who falls in love with a Pakistani woman in a suburban context where the kids from two different schools, a Jewish and a Muslim one, mimick the war which divides their parents, except the adults really hate the others.
It is set in a suburb again.
Well, that is where I am from, and I feel this is a place where existential issues are unavoidable because there are vital.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.