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"The film tells the story of two journeys"

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Marion Hänsel • Director

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- Interview with Belgian director Marion Hänsel to talk about her latest film, Upstream, starring Olivier Gourmet and Sergi López

Marion Hänsel • Director
(© Cinergie)

Cinergie.be talked to Belgian director Marion Hänsel during filming for her latest film, Upstream [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Marion Hänsel
film profile
]
, which is being released in Belgian theatres with Cinéart.

Cinergie: Most of your films are adaptations of books that you’ve liked and which you can immediately envisage on screen, with the settings and characters that come with that. You met with Hubert Mingarelli, which resulted in a closer partnership and in you writing the screenplay with him. Can you talk to us about your meeting him?
Marion Hänsel:
 I didn’t want to write straight after penning another original screenplay (Tenderness [+see also:
trailer
interview: Marion Hänsel
festival scope
film profile
]
). I asked Hubert if he fancied writing a screenplay with me on a story that I put to him: three taciturn 50-year-old men try to meet up and get to know one another. It all resembled the characters that Hubert talks about in many of his books. I was also interested in this absence of women, of mothers in their world. We worked together on the absence of the father. We above all reflected on the desire of one of the half-brothers. The one who didn’t know his father, who didn’t even know his name as his mother never told him what it was. Then comes the death of his father, the discovery that he has a half-brother, and then meeting him. The film tells the story of two journeys: a journey into the psychological and psychoanalytical state of this child who has suffered all his life, up to the age of 50, the absence of his father and, at the same time, the physical journey of these two half-brothers as they travel down a river towards the place they have learned that their father met his demise, not knowing whether he was murdered or committed suicide.

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As in many of your films, there’s a huis clos in which the characters find themselves face to face with one another, in the dry mountains surrounding the water of the river.
Nature can be disturbing as it can make you feel like you’re really faraway, isolated and alone. This is a landscape of rocks. The little coaster boat in the film has trouble navigating it, stopping off along the riverbank. The landscape adds pressure, tension and anxiety as the brothers wind their way down the river.

This huis clos takes on a special intimacy and emotion when the two half-brothers, shut in in the tiny cabin on the boat, talk to one another before going to sleep.
I liked filming them in almost complete darkness. Their questions and answers are exchanged back and forth without us being able to see their facial expressions. We hear their voices, almost whispers. 

The film gradually reveals the characters of the half-brothers, more through their actions and reactions than their words, as they make it clear that they are not all that willing to talk about their respective lives.
The two half-brothers don’t talk a lot. There’s one who cautiously and timidly asks the other questions, almost all of which are about their father. And the other who never gives lengthy answers, just short phrases showing that he doesn’t want to talk about his father. He’s very vague in his answers.

Slowly but surely, we understand that one is the owner of a haulage company. He’s a kid who’s made it on his own and has worked his way up to being his own boss. But we can also see that the pride he feels from his successes has lessened, given that his sole desire was to one day, if he saw his father again, be able to say to him: "Look what I’ve made of my life". And of course this is no longer possible.
And the other half-brother who writes books perhaps feels the same loss, but in a different way, as he actually knew his father. But he also says: "Our father never read my books, and perhaps didn’t even know that I have written any.” Both are lacking recognition. And I think this is something universal which the film broaches and is about.

How did you choose your actors?
Right from the beginning of my collaboration with Hubert Mingarelli, I said to him that we were writing a story for the three actors I had already chosen and had already agreed to it : Olivier Gourmet, Sergio Lopez and John Linch. It really was tailor-made writing. 

See the complete interview here.

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(Translated from French)

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