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GHENT 2021

Christophe Hermans • Director of The Hive

"Children’s bodies absorb their parents’ noise"


- We met with the Belgian filmmaker known for his documentaries, who presented his first feature-length fiction film: a thoroughly female huis clos

Christophe Hermans  • Director of The Hive
(© Cinevox)

We met with Christophe Hermans, a Belgian filmmaker known for his documentaries (En attendant la seconde vague, Victor, Éclaireurs) who travelled to Rome Film Fest last week and to Film Fest Ghent this week, presenting his first feature-length fiction film The Hive [+see also:
film review
interview: Christophe Hermans
film profile
, starring Sophie Breyer, Mara Taquin, Bonnie Duvauchelle and Ludivine Sagnier.

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Cineuropa: How did you first come across Arthur Loustalot’s work, The Hive, which the film is based on, and how did it chime with you?
Christophe Hermans:
Right after my third short fiction film, I tried to write my first feature film. I wanted it to focus on a dysfunctional mother, to explore bipolar disorder or some other form of illness. For a long time, I used to write alone about my relationship with my mother. But I realised over the years that I just couldn’t put together a story. One day, my producer Cassandre Warnauts suggested that I read Arthur Loustalot’s novel The Hive. I was totally hooked from the opening pages. It was a drama unfolding in an apartment where doors opened and closed, and where things left unsaid flourished. It was exactly what I’d been trying to write. I think that quite a few filmmakers talk about themselves in their first films, and it’s always tricky getting the right distance from one’s subject. I needed to find another way of getting there: this book.

Why did you mostly choose to tell the story from the eldest daughter Marion’s viewpoint?
It isn’t a film about a mother living with bipolar, it’s about the children who carry the burden of an unwell parent day in, day out. It started with the saying that “children’s bodies absorb their parents’ noise". How do you become a parent to your own mother? How does Marion construct a shell for herself? How does she withstand it all for the duration of the story, given how easy it would be to snap?

How did you envision this hive?
In documentaries, I work a lot with the notion of territory. I wanted to develop a fairly classic huis clos, where an apartment becomes a character in the film. There’s no such thing as privacy here. You can’t keep secrets inside this hive. I wanted to show these women who co-exist within it, but who are forced to maintain secrecy whenever they leave the hive.

There are two worlds outside of the hive: the world where the girls work and in which they’re evolving, and elsewhere, a fantasy world, Brazil primarily, where Marion dreams of escaping to.
This “elsewhere” represents a yearning to free oneself from something, to bring about a departure in order to escape. Marion wants to discover Brazil, but what she really wants is oxygen, to breathe. It’s her way out. But this idea is thwarted, consumed by her mother who decides to go with her. She realises she will never be able to escape the burden of her parent.

The images are very muted, very painterly.
I did have certain painterly references, notably works by the expressionist painter Berthe Morisot, who spent a lot of time exploring the private world of women, and their interior spaces. I didn’t want any artificial lighting in the film, we worked in line with the sun’s movement across the apartment, and we chose the colour of the walls according to the positions of the light spots.

How did you prepare for filming in order to recreate this family on screen?
We did it in two stages. I wanted the solidarity between the sisters and the maternal bond to be present at all times. When I started to realise that there was a very strong bond uniting them, I also realised that they were singing from the same sheet, that they were acting out the same thing. I needed to distance them from one another, to separate them, and to create something else. They’d created a loving bond, we needed to create a bond of hate. After that, I sent the girls to Paris and told them to get their boots under the table at Ludivine’s house. I said to them: "if she asks you to come over for a drink, stay until midnight." (laughter) I asked each of the actresses to bring personal objects into the apartment. I wanted this home to be theirs. I also asked them to live there ahead of filming, during the ten-day pre-production period.

The actresses hadn’t read the script when we first got started on the film. I asked them to learn it by heart just a few days ahead of filming, because we might be required to film any one scene at any point during the 25-day shoot. I think that’s what gives the film its slightly hybrid nature, with real moments of life. We were working in a laboratory.

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(Translated from French)

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