Peter Monsaert • Director of Nowhere
"If we take the time to get to know someone, our differences are far less significant than we think"
- The Belgian filmmaker spoke to us about his latest feature film - crowned with the Audience Award at the 23rd Arras Film Festival - and his new project 1989
Nowhere [+see also:
interview: Peter Monsaert
film profile] is the 3rd feature film by Belgium’s Peter Monsaert, after Offline [+see also:
film profile] (2012) and Flemish Heaven [+see also:
interview: Peter Monsaert
film profile] (screened in Toronto and in San Sebastián’s 2016 New Directors line-up). We met with the director at the 23rd Arras Film Festival, where his film walked away with the Audience Award and where he is also pitching his new project 1989 as part of Arras Days.
Cineuropa: Where did you get the idea for this encounter between two characters who have each lost a loved one, but in very different ways?
Peter Monsaert: I wanted to speak about the polarisation of society, and the fact that people no longer take the time to try to get to know one another. It’s easier to go onto social networks and clash with people, but if we take the time to get to know someone, our differences are far less significant than we think. And the subject of family arises in all my films, like at the theatre, because, in my view, family is the essence of human life: we’re born somewhere and that creates a certain something with others. I also wanted to try my hand at a film with two characters (there are others, but only in very minor roles) who have nothing in common, who are really different on the surface. But, in reality, they’re really similar: each of them is missing someone and they form a bond as a result of this loss.
Why did you choose these two main characters, André and Thierry, specifically?
I was shooting a documentary at the time about the parents of children who had died in road traffic accidents. I spent a lot of time talking with them and, as I’m a parent too, I was really moved and struck by the fact that no-one reacted in the same way in this type of scenario: some withdraw, like André’s character, and others are really belligerent; some couples grow closer, while others drown in their grief and end up separating. Thierry’s character was inspired by a young, 18-year-old man who had spent his entire life in care, abandoned by his parents, and who had to leave the care system once he reached adult age and died in a tent in Ghent a few months later. I thought to myself that if he’d met just one person who’d paid him a bit of attention, his path might have been different. So I had my two characters. What would happen when they met?
What about the film’s pace and the need to take the time to forge a link without resulting in any sense of boredom?
It was a learning curve. I wanted the film to start with André on his own, and for it to go slowly, but I didn’t want to make a slow film that was too arty. What mattered was that there was a story and that their meeting drove that story forwards. At one point, during the editing phase (courtesy of Alain Dessauvage), I was a bit worried the beginning was too slow, so I made a few cuts, but it didn’t feel like the same film at all. So we took our time to strike the right balance. The film also started out in the dark, without much music or dialogue, and with the idea that the characters would germinate and bloom like flowers: they’d move towards the daylight, the sun, the sea, Marseille, new possibilities. It’s the same thing for the dialogues, in that André was far more talkative towards the end, and for the music, which consisted of industrial sounds at the beginning (music made with instruments, though this isn’t clear for viewers because we’ve disguised it) and the lightness of piano music at the end. Much like the two characters who are in the process of blooming, this film was supposed to metamorphose from a highly constricted documentary style to a more classical fiction film.
What’s 1989 about, your new project which you’re pitching here in Arras?
It’s a story which is really different from my usual work, because the story unfolds in high social circles. The subject of the film is the cruelty that we all have within us. The story revolves around a family: the grandfather did certain things during the Second World War, the father was involved in certain events which took place in Poland in 1989, just before the fall of the Wall, and now in 2022, the daughter (who wants to do even better than her father), who is totally representative of new neo-liberal thought, is buying factories without any thought for the workers. But the ghosts of the past linger on, and the son of a woman who was raped by the father in 1989 bursts into their lives, intent on taking revenge on the family. It’s like some kind of sign: keep on doing what you’re doing, being cruel, but one day, it will come back and blow up in your face. The screenplay is pretty much finished, funding has been initiated in Belgium and now we’re looking for co-producers in France and Poland.
(Translated from French)
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