“A deviant crime thriller”
by Fabien Lemercier
- Rendez-vous at the Les Arcs Festival with Belgian director Pieter Van Hees who deciphers his gripping psychological thriller Waste Land
Unveiled in Toronto and screened in competition at the 6th Les Arcs European Cinema Festival, Waste Land [+see also:
interview: Pieter Van Hees
film profile] (read the review) by Pieter Van Hees is a puzzling genre film, a revolving police investigation on a mind-blowing journey through an unknown Brussels, a Brussels that's ultra-contemporary and haunted by the past. The Belgian director plunges us into the dark part of the unconscious and through an analysis of the latter
Cineuropa: Waste Land is the 3rd part of a trilogy called "Anatomy of Love and pain". This time, the film's about the spirit. What were your initial intentions?
Pieter Van Hees: The three movies are narrated from the perspective of a character in a crisis relationship. Left Bank [+see also:
film profile] was centred on love at first sight and on a 20-year-old woman, an athlete, and so on "the body". Dirty Mind [+see also:
film profile] dealt with a young thirty-something couple and with the "brain" with a stuntman who was freed of his inhibitions following a brain injury. I wanted Waste Land, to be the most mature film of the three, with a couple that already has a child and that must fight to make their relationship last. And at that age, spirituality becomes more important; it's kind of the midlife crisis: you ask yourself questions. The character's job as a policeman is to deal with his surrounding environment. He's faced with the many things that happen in big cities and that people generally don't want to see, like racial tensions for instance. And if you attempt to get to the root of the conflict, then you have to try to define what evil is in order to understand. Because the victims' loved-ones don't just want to know who committed the crime, but, above all, why. And some cases verge on the inexplicable.
A confrontation with Evil that's also a karmic confrontation with the policeman's personal unconscious and with collective unconscious of Belgium as a former colonizing country. How did you include all of these elements?
Before I went to film school, I studied literature and it allows for different levels. It's more difficult in movies, but I tried to do it with a kind of deviant crime thriller, which is, in my opinion, the right way to convey the personal and racial tensions. In Belgium like anywhere else, a heavy historic legacy is diffuse and still present in the collective spirit: slavery, colonisation, World War II. I wanted to tackle this issue through the Belgian Congolese diaspora and through global tension in general, which spreads almost like a disease. The title of the movie refers to a poem by T.S. Eliot that discusses a country that's no longer capable of being fertile. It's a metaphor for modern-day Europe, a continent in crisis with an immigrant youth far removed from what once was the ruling white population. You also have the issue of the child that's coming into the world in Waste Land; it's hoped that this child will breathe new life into the state of affairs and escape historical contamination. I also had in mind Alice in Wonderland, this idea of constantly falling with doors and passageways that lead downward. The viewer must follow Leo in his descent toward hell, discover the places with him.
Your film fits into a Flemish movement that's very focused on film noir. How do you explain this trend?
I believe it's linked to the fact that we don't have a very strong film tradition, like in France, in the UK or in Wallonia with the realist social documentary that still has a lot of influence on fiction, with the Dardennes taking the lead. In Flanders, we didn't grow up in a culture of truth, and so we're quite free and the same is true for theatre and music, there's lots of hybridization. If you look at Waste Land with the cinema-vérité tradition in mind, you might be confused. I didn't want to make an American documentary film about the sequences that exist in real life and those that aren't real, nor did I wish to make a psychedelic trip about madness. I had to strike a delicate balance and to do that I needed to show the emotional side of hysteria, that mix between a very rational part and another that's completely irrational, the anxiety that's born because the real world and the world of fantasy are very close in reality and you can pass from one to the other through a little door.
(Translated from French)