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ROTTERDAM 2018

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Ruben Desiere • Director

“Money is something that defines what you can and cannot do”

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- Cineuropa talked to up-and-coming director Ruben Desiere in Rotterdam about the contemplative pace of his fiction feature debut The Flower Shop

Ruben Desiere • Director
(© Liesbeth Beeckman)

The emerging Belgian filmmaker Ruben Desiere introduced his first feature film, The Flower Shop [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Ruben Desiere
film profile
]
, at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, following the documentary doubling as a graduation project, Kosmos. The two projects share some of the same amateur cast members, a group of Slovaks working in Brussels. Cineuropa talked to Desiere in Rotterdam about the contemplative pace and style that link his two films.

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Cineuropa: The Belgian-Slovak co-production is very unusual. How did that happen?
Ruben Desiere: The film was made with a grant, the VAF wildcard, which I received after my graduation work. It’s a starting budget to make a debut film after school. I intended to work with the Slovak guys I met while making my previous film, Kosmos. Kosmos wasn’t screened much in Slovakia, with the exception of Bratislava Film Festival. We thought it would be good to have a connection to the country the characters come from and talk about. So we started searching for co-production possibilities and came across Tomáš Kaminský of Mandala Pictures, who was very enthusiastic and helpful. The reasons for this Slovak co-production were financial, of course, but also to have the film more widely distributed afterwards. It’s the usual co-production story.

What is the connection between Kosmos and The Flower Shop, considering the fact that you used the same protagonists and style, despite Kosmos being a documentary and The Flower Shop being a fiction film?
Working on Kosmos was very important to me, primarily so that I could graduate, but also so I could find the way that I wanted to make cinema. In Gesu, the squat in Brussels where the film was shot, we found a way of working. When the squat was evicted, we were in the middle of the shooting process. The film therefore seemed to fall into two parts. The first one, where we could consciously search for a form, and the second one, where the project was suspended due to the unescapable urgency of the eviction. After Gesu went, the filming process ended abruptly.

In terms of The Flower Shop, I wanted us to be able to decide for ourselves when filming was done. To have the freedom and time we needed to make the film as good as we could. When we started shooting, the actors were moving a lot from house to house, so we decided to shoot the film in a studio where we weren’t reliant on their personal situations. We were always able to meet at the studio at the weekends to work. In terms of form, the elements of the film and choices we made were mainly based on this, we wanted to have a fixed place.

You shot in low-light. Why?
I guess there were several reasons. One is technical, the camera we shot with was a very old camera and it turned out its best results were in low-light. On set we worked almost constantly with just me and someone for the sound. We had to put the lamps up ourselves so we looked for three or four simple setups and stuck to those.

The Flower Shop, with its long takes and diversion from a plot-driven narrative, evokes conventions of so-called “slow cinema”. Is that the case?
I don’t like the idea of slow cinema at all. Personally, I don’t really know what it means. The idea of The Flower Shop was to allow a lot of space for them talking, and that meant not being too distracted by the background, that´s why we mainly shot against walls. What I like most in working with Tomas Balog, Vladimir Balasz and Rastislav Vano is the way they can just sit in a place and pass the time talking. This is strongly linked to the initial idea that the film should be about money. Without money, you can’t access many places. All that’s left is the dialogue and conversations. I always really liked their conversations.

The protagonists are from an ethnic minority and are sort of economic migrants, which is a hot topic in the currently populistic and nationalistic political climate. Does The Flower Shop bear a political statement revolving around immigration?
There was not and is not a clear political statement in my head in regard to the film. I saw them as three guys I know and who I like to work with. They are very different from me, but we live in the same city. If making films gives me the opportunity to widen my view on this city, I am very grateful. Of course, their identity is part of their being. but it was never my intention to make a film about their position as a minority. If they talk, they talk a lot about identity, but I do not see it as the core to the film. The core, for me, was always money. We tried to approach it in a comic-book way. Money is a very invisible thing, something that is hard to film but at the same time, it is something that defines what you can and cannot do.

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