“I’d like my film to inspire reflection”
by Dimitra Bouras et Jean-Michel Vlaeminckx
- Interview by Cinergie with the 34-year-old Belgian director whose film Private Lessons was selected in the 2008 Cannes Directors’ Fortnight
Cinergie.be: In your previous films – whether it be Tribu, Private Madness or Private Property [+see also:
film profile] – what you emphasised was the absence of one or both parents or, on the contrary, their excessive love, which created a family imbalance. In Private Lessons [+see also:
interview: Jacques-Henri Bronckart
interview: Joachim Lafosse
film profile], the imbalance is caused not by the family, but by an outsider, who is also a tutor.
Joachim Lafosse: Yes, the family instils an ability to liberate oneself and live alone. In this case, I tell the story of a teenager who can’t distinguish between what constitutes learning and what constitutes transgression. I wanted to explore the blurred boundary that exists between the two, in the education given by a teacher, whose authority and experience are recognised and who meets a teenager.
He wants to impart truths to him; the teenager is of course very curious and, in this relationship, the issue arises of what limits should be set by both of them. It’s rather complicated for the teenager to know how to set limits, as he has no points of reference. It’s therefore the adult’s responsibility to define them, but he chooses not to.
I try to make the viewers think so that they realise how far this situation could go. Another issue raised by the film is that of knowing whether we can learn everything. Can sexuality be learned or taught?
You said you’d like to be able to connect with young people through this film. Do you want to enter into a discussion?
Yes, but that’s the case for every film. I like to talk about a film after its release. Its role is not just to entertain; you can entertain and make people think at the same time. I try to combine the two. This film about limits is not aimed at everyone; I think you have to be 15 to see this film, discuss it, truly understand and grasp it. So I’d be delighted to have the opportunity to discuss it with teenage viewers.
I’m not a teacher, I’m a filmmaker. But I’d like my film to inspire reflection. What interests me most is stimulating viewers’ subjectivity, so that they realise they’re not just consumers, but people who think and have an opinion. When you appeal to viewers’ subjectivity, this means they have to take a position.
When you leave viewers with a question to which you don’t necessarily provide an answer, it frightens them. It’s the same for Jonas in the film. We’d all like to have access to truths. Private Lessons is a story about which it’s very difficult to have an opinion, but I prefer complexity to simplicity.
All the characters are very close, in a physical sense.
Yes, that impression is created by the long focal distance. Making a film is about making choices. People don’t realise how many different choices the director has to make. Everything related to the frame, the sharpness of the image, the sound…All these choices need to be made and are part of the grammar of film language. There is no coincidence in film; everything is well thought-out so that it looks beautiful.
I chose Scope for the table scenes. This gives a wide view of the table and we see everyone within the same shot; this avoids using the shot/reverse shot technique. I learned a lot about what you can do with the tools of film. Of all my films, this is undoubtedly the one where I learned the most.