"It is in our flaws that I find beauty"
by Aurore Engelen
- Cineuropa caught up with Belgian director Xavier Seron to talk about his debut feature, Death By Death
Xavier Seron made a name for himself with short films, built on bold and rather off-the-chain aesthetics, some of which he made alone (Rien d’insoluble, for example), and some of which he made in tandem, most notably with Méryl Fortunat-Rossi (Bad Moon, The Black Bear, which won the Magritte for Best Short Film in 2016, and more recently, The Plumber). Death By Death [+see also:
interview: Xavier Seron
film profile] is his first feature film.
Cineuropa: Where did the film come from?
Xavier Seron: My very first short film, which I made at the Institute of Media Arts (IAD) was already called Death By Death. Although the story in this film ended up having nothing to do with that one, the theme of the fear of death was already there. It was the first time I worked with Jean-Jacques Rausin! The subject of death and illness is something that affects every one of us, and I wanted to tackle it through humour. Humour is, after all, a way of taming our anxieties and overcoming them.
The film took quite a long time to make. In 2007, I had some help with the writing, and had to wait three whole years to get the production side of things set up, then three more years to find funding. But we didn’t manage to secure enough, and filming, which had started in Brittany, had to be suspended for 10 months! The producers set off in search of the missing funds, and never found any. As a result, we finished the film with the odds and ends we had to hand and a great deal of effort on our part.
You make some very bold aesthetic choices, especially by using black and white.
I’ve wanted to film in black and white for a long time. I really like the work of certain photographers, especially Daido Moriyama, Anders Petersen and Jacob Aue Sobol, photographers who work with very contrasting black and white tones. This very graphic approach brings out the textures of the body. Being able to see the skin, the veins and the pores gives the whole thing an organic quality.
It’s also a way of pointedly reinventing reality, is it not?
Yes, it’s a reconstruction of reality, a sort of omission, it lends itself well to the discrepancies we see throughout the film, like bringing together very trivial elements with more poetic periods of lucidity, or the mystical and the profane. As soon as I started writing the screenplay I imagined the film in black and white.
You also use a lot of narrative devices, most notably literary ones, such as a chapter-based structure, voice-overs, etc.
I wanted to play with different mediums. I had already used chapters in my short films, and it enabled me to structure the story in another way, which was particularly useful here as we have a quest which moves forwards in segments, scene by scene: that’s how the story is structured. I love what Georges Pérec does in literature, his commentary within the text itself, and it’s frustrating to think that you don’t have the right to use this kind of creativity in film. These short phrases, these literary devices are beacons that add depth and a feeling of collusion. Moreover, the film is adorned with references to Baroque culture, for example, Baroque music and painting. There are just as many extra layers, which are not essential to understand or appreciate the film, but which I hope will enrich the relationship with the viewer sharing these references with me.
To exorcise the fear of death, you have to laugh. What role does humour play in the film?
There are different kinds of humour: plays on words, funny dialogues, and situational humour, a lot of situational humour. I also played with the sound. The power of the humour depends on the situation. People talk to me about pathos, but I actually identify completely with the characters. I often find myself ridiculous, or in pitiful situations that make me chuckle looking back. That’s what’s so great about human beings: all their weaknesses, flaws, anxieties and clumsiness. I think that everything that can be considered a flaw is also what makes us beautiful, and above all, laugh about our anxieties. It is in our flaws that I find beauty, a beauty that often makes us smile.
(Translated from French)