“I wanted to create a simple exercise in style”
by Héctor Llanos Martínez
- LOCARNO 2015: Cineuropa speaks with Alex van Warmerdam about his new work Schneider vs. Bax, screening at Locarno Film Festival
After representing Dutch cinema at the official competition at the Cannes Film Festival for the first time in decades and triumphing at festivals such as Sitges with the complex Borgman [+see also:
interview: Alex van Varmerdam
interview: Reinout Scholten van Aschat
film profile], filmmaker Alex van Warmerdam has chosen to make a film that he describes as "light as a feather." The film Schneider vs. Bax [+see also:
interview: Alex van Warmerdam
film profile], part of the competition at the Locarno Film Festival, follows a contract killer who is assigned a job on the day of his birthday. He is handed the task of killing a writer - a task he is promised will “be over by noon;” however, the mission soon becomes more complicated than first anticipated.
Cineuropa: On this occasion the idea was to tell a lighter story.
Alex van Warmerdam: I almost always begin a project by writing up a synopsis and guidelines that I try to follow. This time I just wrote down a few ideas and started to build the script, so the story was something abstract that developed as I was writing it. I focused more on achieving a certain style and following a specific narrative rhythm.
The film doesn’t offer any reason to justify the killings that have been assigned to the protagonists.
Only one character gives a reason, which may or may not be true. I didn’t want to give many details as to why they ended up in that situation, because sometimes showing the characters’ motivations can be a problem when the viewers identify with them.
The initial premise of the story involves two armed men facing off in a duel, like a western. Different female characters then appear on scene and play with those typical male clichés.
In fact, one of the women ends up acting like a man. One of the instructions that I always gave the actress who plays the part is that, at a certain moment in story, she turns into Calamity Jane. If I played with male clichés, it was not premeditated; it came with the writing process.
In a way, you denied that Borgman was deliberately made as a criticism of the bourgeoisie. But it is not difficult to find that again in Schneider vs. Bax - in characters that are parents who pay for their bills and birthday parties by working as hired killers.
This criticism emerges as a side effect, rather than as a purpose in itself. I let it appear in the story, although you have to pay close attention. In this film, I created the contrast between the perfect housewife preparing a family birthday party while the husband is wrestling with someone to give it a comedic twist.
The black humour goes much further than in that example. Where did you develop such a dark sense of humour?
I was always a difficult child and my parents found me tough to handle. My little brother has a theory. He believes that it all started when we read one of Ian McEwan’s first books of short stories as children. One of them is about a girl who drowns in a canal. It was at that moment that something was triggered in my mind, and now it is reflected in my work.
Your artistic work extends into other fields, such as theatre, painting and design, but it is quite clear that under no circumstances you like to analyse your work.
This is because, if I over-analyse, I impose on myself a specific message and meaning. I would then lose creative freedom. I prefer to remain untainted and innocent in this regard.
(Translated from Spanish)