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BRIFF 2021

Serge Mirzabekiantz • Director of Dark Heart of the Forest

“The forest brings mystery and ambivalence, which shifts the narrative”


- The Belgian filmmaker tells us about his first feature, a sensitive and bewitching drama about the unexpected encounter between two wounded children searching for love

Serge Mirzabekiantz • Director of Dark Heart of the Forest
(© BRIFF/Claire Zombas)

Cineuropa met with Serge Mirzabekiantz, whose first feature Dark Heart of the Forest [+see also:
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interview: Serge Mirzabekiantz
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, a sensitive and bewitching drama about the unexpected encounter between two wounded children searching for love, had its world premiere Friday night and opened the National Competition of the Brussels International Film Festival.

Cineuropa: What are the origins of this project?
Serge Mirzabekiantz: Originally, I wanted to write a short film that would start from an image, that of a dark forest. I wanted it to be so that, the longer one looked at the picture of the forest, the more details one would notice. I saw there people running, then we would realise that they were a boy and a girl, that they seemed young, that the girl was standing strangely, that maybe she was pregnant… I started to write a short film, which was called Refuge, and which became Dark Heart of the Forest. As I progressed through the writing process, the construction of the characters, I felt that it was starting to take the amplitude of a feature film.

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Starting from this forest, this complex organism that houses stories, how does one arrive at the one in the film today, and how would you define it?
I actually love films about encounters. I wanted to see how two people meet, and why it works, why magnets come together. The forest is a mirror of what they are, of their fears and their secrets. I feel as though I wanted to tell about the need for love, in fact, of simply receiving it and giving it. What happens when we’ve been deprived of it, when we haven’t learned love?

Who are Nikolaï and Camille?
They clearly are wandering souls. Children that were let go off, and who no longer have any bearings, any roots. They need to hang on to something again, and they hang on to each other, each in a different way in their desire. It was also interesting to me that they don’t have the same family history. Nikolaï was abandoned in a forest, it’s a great act of violence, he grows up without any reference to his origins, to who he is. Camille, on the other hand, has had a family, a mother who didn’t want her, and a father who felt overwhelmed by his daughter and ended up rebuilding his life. It was important that they also have different journeys.

How did you write, think, imagine the character of the forest?
It’s always been a very strong presence in my films, I find it extremely cinematic with its textures, its lights. It exudes mystery and ambivalence, the forest can be joyous as it can be troubling. Plunging my characters into this very silent universe allowed me to establish a sort of dialogue between them and the forest. We worked a lot on the sound, for it to be very organic, very visceral, to be in sensations and in suggestion. What I like about the forest is that it triggers an extraordinary imagination and that, like adolescence, it’s the place of all possibilities. It makes the experience denser. For it to really become a character, it also needed an identity in the image. I visited countless forests to find the one for the film. When we did find it, we had to see how the sun evolved there depending on the season. We took many pictures and did many calibration tests with my director of photography Virginie Surdej, to see how to put some black in the light. That’s what’s interesting, to think that in the light, there is a way to put some darkness, and how the light can emerge in the dark. The world has also caught up with us a little, and today we observe a need to return to nature, to listen to it differently, and I also wanted to talk about that.

The forest also contributes to shifting the genre of the film, we get out of the teenage story to take it elsewhere.
Exactly, that answered a question that was present from the beginning: why “just” make another film about a teenage pregnancy, when it’s already been done very well in the past? What I wanted was to set up a realistic universe, with a real social background, to then deviate towards something more dreamlike, to open towards something universal. Where we worked and reworked the most in the script, it was to find this slight imbalance, or in any case this blend that works, without it being too fantastical or too much like a horror film. I remember that during a meeting with the CNC, a reader noted that it was a post-Dardenne movie, and I found that very interesting.

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(Translated from French)

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