Martine Doyen • Director
"Laughter has lost its subversive powers"
- We met up with the Belgian director Martine Doyen, whose second feature, Witz, was presented in national competition at Brussels International Film Festival
After directing her first feature film, Komma [+see also:
film profile], selected at Cannes Critics' Week in 2006, the Belgian director Martine Doyen thought about other ways of making films, putting her ideas into practice via several experimental films, the most recent being HAMSTERs [+see also:
film profile], selected at Rotterdam International Film Festival. Witz [+see also:
interview: Martine Doyen
film profile], a quirky romantic comedy, is her second feature film, and was presented in national competition at Brussels International Film Festival.
Cineuropa: The film is about a woman who loses her sense of humour. Where did the idea for the film come from?
Martine Doyen: I was watching a TV show about brain injuries. A man had fallen off a motorcycle and was talking about his experience. He had lost his sense of humour, but he didn’t realise straight away. It made me burst out laughing, and I thought I might be able to dig a little deeper into the subject matter.
So, I created this female character who has lost her sense of humor, and who has to change her life in order to find it. I had an impulse. I had to bring her to life.
It’s also a romantic comedy with a twist?
I didn’t initially necessarily want to make a romantic comedy, or not just that. But actually, it ended up being quite stimulating to reject the genre’s usual signifiers.
When I was little, I watched a lot of old films with my grandmother, I knew that sort of cinema off by heart, romantic American comedies from the ‘30s to the ‘60s, often inclusive of very marked visual universes which centre around an explosive encounter.
Is it a reflection on laughter, and how it makes us who we are?
I mulled it over a lot: what does it mean to laugh? To not laugh anymore? I read texts by philosophers and sociologists. I was interested in the neurological implications of laughter. I discovered that it also has a very physical impact. You feel a lot better even when just pretending to laugh.
Our sense of humour is really constitutive of our personalities. Someone’s sense of humour is enough to make us fall in love with them.
Is it also a way of suggesting that society itself has lost its sense of humour somewhat?
I did a brief stint in advertising when I left school, a job I did purely for some financial support, and they were really into forced laughter. It’s something you see a lot, including outside the advertising sector, in stand-up shows, everywhere in fact, and it's a way of laughing that really puts me on edge. I think laughter has lost its subversive power.
How did you go about casting the film?
I've known Sandrine for years. I've never stopped rediscovering her in films, and she's always impressed me. I saw her again recently, and thought she had matured a little, and that said age had done her well. And I liked the idea of having a relatively new face on the big screen.
(Translated from French)
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