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Peter Monsaert • Director

“Family is the only thing you can’t escape from”


- Cineuropa met up with Belgian director Peter Monsaert to discuss his second feature, Flemish Heaven

Peter Monsaert  • Director

Peter Monsaert rose to prominence in the film world with his feature debut, Offline [+see also:
film profile
, which won the Feature Film Grand Prix and the Best Actress and Actor Awards at Amiens, amongst other accolades. His career continues to progress, straddling theatre, cinema, video installations and community-based art. Flemish Heaven [+see also:
film review
interview: Peter Monsaert
film profile
, his second feature, goes on general release this week in Belgium (courtesy of Lumière), and will come out in France in January (via Urban Distribution International) and in the Netherlands in February (with Lumière).

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Cineuropa: Where did the idea for the film come from?
Peter Monsaert:
When my daughters were born, and I saw them for the first time, I fell hopelessly in love. I cried like crazy for the first time in ten years. I felt love, but I also felt fear and vulnerability, emotions that I’d never felt before that. I decided to make a film out of the experience. I wanted to tackle the topic of family, and I wanted to work on the feeling of guilt: is it something that’s inside of us, or is it imposed on us from the outside? The world of prostitution gave me the opportunity to address this issue.

The mother in the film is doubly guilty and vulnerable: first of all as a mother, and also as a prostitute, correct?
Yes, absolutely. She is guilty, socially speaking. But the society we live in is hypocritical. Most people tolerate prostitution, and they are even pleased that prostitutes exist, but as soon as something happens, everyone thinks, “I’m not surprised, she’s a whore.” Tragedy forces people to discuss things; at school, people treat Eline’s mother like a hooker, and the police officer in charge of the inquiry is quick to blame the mother’s way of life… I wanted to normalise prostitution. The girls I met during my research for the movie were very insistent that they can’t be reduced to a mere occupation; they are women, mothers, daughters, sisters, and not only prostitutes. That’s why I chose to show the kitchen or the bar, and not the bedrooms.

The beating heart of the film is the subject of family.
That happened all by itself – it wasn’t a conscious decision. It’s a movie about women and about family. Incidentally, the character of Uncle Dirk is initially confined to the sidelines of the film, and he gradually figures out his place and finds himself at the core of the family. The themes are similar to those found in my first film, Offline. It scared me a little at first; I thought I was stuck on one subject, but then I realised it was normal. For me, family is the only thing you can’t escape from.

As the film progresses, it is steeped in chiaroscuro, both aesthetically and morally speaking.
I really like movies that ask questions and leave it up to the viewer to answer them. That’s what people take away from the film when they leave: what would I have done in that person’s shoes? A film is a conversation between the director and the audience: you make the film together.

The clash between the worlds of the adults and the children proves to be pretty brutal.
The way we film Eline is different; we tried to adopt an approach with close-up shots, so that you could almost reach out and touch her, and we tried to be more poetic than prosaic with her character. There’s a very open and naïve approach to her way of looking at things.

Is this distance also a dramatic mechanism?
Yes, and that’s also why I decided to work in two languages in the film. I’ve worked on the French border, where sex trafficking is a burgeoning business. Eline doesn’t understand what her assailant is telling her, either emotionally or literally. For her, cuddles are normal. Nor does she understand body language, and this is what exacerbates the tragedy.

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(Translated from French)

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