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“I’ve always been intrigued by family bonds”

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Gilles Coulier • Director

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- We talked to Belgium’s Gilles Coulier to discuss the story and themes behind his feature debut, Cargo

Gilles Coulier  • Director
(© Montse Castillo / Festival de San Sebastián)

Belgian director-scriptwriter-producer Gilles Coulier has participated twice at Cannes with his short films Iceland (2009) and Mont Blanc (2013), in the Cinéfondation and Official competitions, respectively. His debut feature film, Cargo [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Gilles Coulier
film profile
]
, is competing in the New Directors programme of the 65th San Sebastián International Film Festival. We met up with him to discuss the importance of communication, the lack of female characters in his movie and why Flanders produces strong family dramas.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Cineuropa: In your short films, you dealt with the topic of family bonds; why are you still concerned with a similar topic in Cargo?
Gilles Coulier
: I’ve always been intrigued by family bonds, especially brotherhood and fatherhood. Having grown up in a family of three sons, I experienced a very particular way of communicating, which often resulted in non-verbal understanding and a lack of direct emotional conversations and signals. I also asked myself a question: at what point in a man’s life does one become a father? Or, at least, when does he have the feeling that he is one? A lot of men told me that it was at the moment of their child’s birth, and for others it occurred later. Then I tried to figure out what might happen to a family where a very dominant grandfather disappears. I wanted to focus on his son’s struggle to become the father he has never been for his own son, and how this would turn out. Is he going to be the same man as his father, or will he change?

These two themes required an environment of tradition, and I found this tradition in the world of fishing – a very rough, male-dominated world with almost no emotional communication. The role of the landscape was very important.

Is this lack of communication also a comment on modern families, or is it more a general social observation?
Even if the situation I depict in Cargo seems a bit larger than life, I am pretty sure that it happens a lot, and not only within families. Communication is one of the foundations of our society, but it’s also one of the biggest barriers in relationships – especially emotional communication. I am a very emotional person, and I think that’s the only way to handle this profession, but I’ve seen a lot of people disappear around me because of a lack of communication. Couples that separate, friends that distance themselves, brothers who stop talking, colleagues who commit suicide… I don’t feel like a moral knight aiming to change our society, but I hope this film will be helpful.

You have a strictly male cast; what was your intention in delivering a purely masculine film?
Every time my co-writer Tom Dupont and I tried to introduce a female character, all the problems seemed to be resolved [laughs]! But it’s true in a way. The fact that a female character – for example, a grandmother – wouldn’t tell her son that her husband is having financial troubles would make her an awful person. And that was not the intention of the film. I could make my point more clearly in an all-male world. We made the sea the only female character, the place where they yearn to be, the place where they feel at home and forget their troubles. It’s no coincidence that the sea in French (la mer) is female.

Each of your characters is dealing with a heavy burden/cargo that troubles him; how easy was it to enable these diverse subjects to coexist?
It wasn’t easy. I wanted to put realism at the forefront of the film, in every possible way, so that the audience wouldn’t feel the script or the tricks that a director or screenwriter uses to make a story work. We fought hard against these tricks that make these burdens and situations too coincidental, and I think that’s why it was necessary to preserve the purity of the script.

A lot of emotional family dramas have been emerging from Flanders recently. Is this a creative trend, or is there a need to discuss interfamilial issues?
I don’t think there is a real need to discuss these interfamilial subjects in Belgium. It has been a long time since Wallonia found its identity as a film region. I think that we have finally found our identity in Flanders, too, and it has made us realise that we shouldn’t copy what we see abroad. Films like The Misfortunates [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Felix van Groeningen
film profile
]
, Bullhead [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Bart Van Langendonck
interview: Michaël R. Roskam
film profile
]
, Home [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Fien Troch
film profile
]
, The Broken Circle Breakdown [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Felix van Groeningen
interview: Felix Van Groeningen
interview: Felix Van Groeningen
festival scope
film profile
]
and Flemish Heaven [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Peter Monsaert
film profile
]
are very successful examples of this identity. We have so many interesting directors and stories, and some very good reasons to be proud of our culture. That also results in a form of creative contagion characterised by realism and strong bonds to the characters and their personal stories. I think in those terms you could talk about a creative trend, but I’d rather call it a general interest in these personal stories.

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