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"I wanted to make the incomprehensible comprehensible"

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Nathalie Teirlinck • Director

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- Cinergie met up with Nathalie Teirlinck, whose first feature-length film, Past Imperfect, is out in Belgian cinemas

Nathalie Teirlinck • Director

After graduating from KASK in 2007, young thirty-something Nathalie Teirlinck threw herself into directing her latest feature-length film, Past Imperfect [+see also:
trailer
interview: Nathalie Teirlinck
film profile
]
. The film tells the story of Alice, a mother who is forced to care for her estranged son.

Cinergie: Why did you choose the title, Past Imperfect? Are you suggesting that the present no longer exists?
Nathalie Teirlinck:The concept of memory plays a very important part in the film, with each character attempting to escape the past. They don't realise that the future consists of the past. I don’t believe in huge life changes and I don't think they’re possible in cinema either. She changes at the end of the film, but it's not a huge life change because that's not a true reflection of real life.

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Did you shoot the film in French in order to cast Evelyne Brochu in the leading role?
That’s right. I knew from the get-go that Alice would carry the film. I never write screenplays based on actors. I tend to have a certain energy that already exists in my mind and it’s just about finding the right person. As she's a fairly complex and paradoxical woman, I knew that I would have to find someone who was able to portray a wide range of emotions. I sawDavid Cronenberg’s The Nest. She was alone and naked in front of the camera and her energy and complexity really touched me. So much so that I decided write to David and we met up in Montreal. There was a palpable energy between us straightaway. She could almost be my sister. People say that we look very similar too.

Some of the themes present in the film are autobiographical, but the fictional context isn’t. When you create a character, you’re the only frame of reference, and so you constantly put yourself in the character’s shoes. It’s only afterwards that you add the perspectives, point of view, personality and life story that are individual to the character.

I didn’t want to be judgemental or be moralistic. I wanted to make the incomprehensible comprehensible. Things that are seemingly very obvious in our society, like a mother’s unconditional love for her child, often come with complexities. I got the impression, from speaking to young mums, that we are in such a free world but there is still a taboo surrounding this and it’s odd. We all want to be open, but we aren’t able to accept the idea of abandoning a child. So it's great. At the same time, I am surrounded by young mums or friends who are currently getting ready for that and I see a world full of possibilities and a world in which we all have to adopt roles in life with a sort of perfectionism. If we fail, it’s our fault because all of these possibilities are available to us.

Did Alice have to separate herself from the entire world, from all emotional ties in order to be able to accept herself?
She lost so much emotional control that she was stuck. It was easier to stop moving than to take a step forward. That's why the film was previously called Tonic Immobility - the concept originating from animals. It's a defence mechanism, a kind of instinctive paralysis to prevent attack. It's the same for Alice. She found a way to live her life without responsibilities, with a sense of fictitious autonomy. For her, it was easier to live that way at that point in her life because she could be in control and could experiment with her feelings via her job as a luxury escort, which she wasn’t able to do in real life.

The imagery in the film is equally as important as the screenplay. You are also a plastic artist. How do you make the images so golden and luminous? 
Life is full of contrast and beauty but it’s never just about beauty. I really like to tell a story using visual and sound aspects, because for me, that's what stimulates the viewer's imagination. Franck, my chief cameraman, and I work with photos a lot. I surround myself with photos when I write as they stimulate my imagination, which forces me to imagine what’s outside of a photograph’s borders.

How did you write the screenplay?
I wrote it alone and then I got Molly Stensgaard's help, who was the editor for Lars Von Trier's films. I worked with Molly most of all at the end of the film as she was also there during the editing phase. It was interesting because, as an editor, you have a sort of rhythm, you feel the film in a different way. Writers are rarely able to anticipate anything that will ends up being palpable at the end of the process.

Read the full interview right here.

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(Translated from French by Beatrice Guarneri)

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