“I’m obsessed with the construction of family bonds”
by Aurore Engelen
- Cineuropa met with Bernard Bellefroid to talk about his second film, Melody, an encounter between two women in pursuit of a family
After dealing with the conflictive relationship between a father and his son in The Boat Race [+see also:
interview: Bernard Bellefroid, directo…
film profile], Bernard Bellefroid questions the concepts of maternity and parentage in his second film, Melody [+see also:
interview: Bernard Bellefroid
film profile], a dual portrait of two women looking for direction
Cineuropa: With such an emotionally charged theme, was it important not to indulge in contentious cinema?
Bernard Bellefroid: The film, first of all, questions the issue of surrogacy, but it wasn’t about making a contentious film, being radically for or against. I didn’t want to judge, but to question. What I judge in the end, is the social violence that leads Melody to consider surrogacy. The film is based on a terrible event that took place a few years ago in Belgium. A Belgian couple had accepted to carry a child for a Dutch couple; as the pregnancy advanced, their relationship deteriorated and the "carrier" couple started to blackmail the waiting couple. What’s more, I started writing just after the 2008 crisis, and I was horrified by the social violence that it represented, the way in which it created a break in Europe and the inter-generational conflict that resulted. Faced with extreme poverty, the characters have only their bodies to sell and to make money. It might be prostitution, but Melody opts for surrogacy as a solution and a means of realising her dreams.
So it’s a film that ponders maternity, but also family bonds?
Is it about blood ties or bonds that we create? It’s an issue that I’m obsessed with, that I wondered about both in my documentaries and in my first film. In the end, it’s not so much the pregnancy itself that creates maternity and parentage for these two women, rather, it’s their encounter. My first film was a very much an autobiography, the theme was very close to my heart and I had to grit my teeth in order to distance myself so that I could succeed in telling a story. Finally, with this film, I was in a better position to distance myself enough from the writing. Anyway, I don’t believe in minority film, where only women can talk about women, Africans about Africans, etc., and I don’t believe in women’s films or men’s films.
The film also has a fairytale side to it. Initially, it captures a social issue, but quite quickly, the film focuses again on these two very lonely characters, whose entourages are barely even considered. Finally, they find themselves (and meet) in isolation, in this house beside the sea, this rather magic family home where bonds are created.
Do your characters constantly switch between French and English?
It was a way of working on the emotional power of language, depending on whether we express ourselves in our mother tongue or not. When there’s tension, the characters try to lead the other into their linguistic comfort zone. The switch between the two languages creates some interesting dramatic dynamics. I also wanted to deal with clash of two empires, namely France and England, the cultural differences that might exist between a country where surrogacy is permitted, and another where anonymous childbirth is authorised. Emily’s illness, which intervenes in the second part of the film, is a means of confronting Melody with the question of her child’s future. If its biological mother were to die, what would she do with it? She was also born anonymously, abandoned at birth, never knowing who her mother was. The situation cruelly sends her back to her roots. Is she condemned to follow in her mother’s footsteps, or can she overcome this trauma
Was it difficult to finance the movie?
Yes. First of all, for technical reasons, because when you make a second movie, particularly in France, there’s no first section anymore and you find yourself in competition with the Dardenne brothers or Jacques Audiard, and obviously, that’s tough competition! I was also faced with a thematic obstacle: the debate about gay marriage was in full swing, the issue of surrogacy was at the centre of the discussions, and since the film didn’t plan to take a black and white stance on the issue, I think that frightened a bit.
(Translated from French)