"A coming-of-age film about someone who’s 50"
by Boyd van Hoeij
- It's All So Quiet is director Nanouk Leopold’s fifth feature and first adaptation.
It's All So Quiet [+see also:
interview: Nanouk Leopold
film profile] is the story of Helmer, a middle-aged farmer who moves his bedridden father upstairs and then has the opportunity to finally face the fact he likes men. It is director Nanouk Leopold’s fifth feature and first adaptation.
Cineuropa: This is your first film adaptation. How did Gerbrand Bakker’s acclaimed novel land in your lap?
Nanouk Leopold: My producer, Stienette Bosklopper, had optioned it and had been collaborating with someone who couldn’t get it to work so she then suggested I try it. Initially, I was quite scared because at the time it was only a screenwriting job and I had never considered myself a screenwriter or had adapted someone else’s material. No one thought I was going to direct it, not even me. But we did talk about that option “should I fall in love with the material” and finally, when Stienette was already talking to potential directors, I said I wanted to direct it, too. After Brownian Movement [+see also:
film profile], I felt like I needed to go in a different direction.
There are differences with your previous films, including the handheld camerawork, the male instead of female protagonists and the rural working-class instead of city-based middle-class milieu. Are there similarities as well?
The characters don’t talk a lot. And I think that, perhaps even more so than in my previous work, it corresponds to the characters in real life. Farmers don’t talk a lot, or is this just my imagination? In any case, it felt right.
What was the most difficult when you adapted the book, compared to writing from scratch?
You can’t just turn the book’s page one into the first page of the screenplay. The way time is constructed and used in novels is very different. Films follow the attention-span of the viewer in one seating, about 90 minutes, so a lot stays quite superficial compared to a novel, where you can also jump back and forth in time. I removed a lot of the subplots and had to figure out that the real writing happens only later, after you’ve decided which scenes to keep; it’s like a Swiss cheese full of holes that you than have to fill again to connect the material you want to keep. The Flemish milk-truck driver, for example, is a composite character that doesn’t really exist in the novel, which moves more between past and present. Only in the editing did I realize that I’ve got two love stories [the other is with a young farmhand] that drive the action forward.
Does It's All So Quiet feel like a separate project or is it an organic part of your oeuvre?
I was afraid it would be that “one adaptation she once did” but now I see that that’s not the case. I’ve made it my own. I’ve always trusted a sort of subconscious decision-making process when making a film so the big difference here was here that someone could have said I was subconsciously making the wrong decisions since the book was indicating in which direction the film should go. But I showed Bakker the film and he was really happy with it, so that made me happy. He understood film is an entirely different medium and could see the book’s atmosphere was intact.
The film’s location types (indoors/outdoors; open/closed; light/dark) often have a metaphorical meaning as well. How did you develop the visual language?
It was impossible to find the right farm and what you see is a composite of four Dutch farms and one in northern Germany. With my production designer, we took a lot of photos and visited farms and this helped for details — such as where do farmers leave their boots or clogs? — but also story ideas. Indoors, we wanted to give the impression Helmer is always hiding, so we filmed a lot in corners. And the farm is ugly, cold and business-like, though at the end it feels a little more romantic and there’s more sunshine. The place where the story is set is one of the most important elements, if you get that right than you can do everything right there.
How would you describe the film in one sentence?
It’s about someone who’s not allowing himself to be himself and who has to explore who he really is in order to be happy. It’s really a coming-of-age film about someone who’s 50.