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CANNES 2024 Critics’ Week

Leonardo van Dijl • Director of Julie Keeps Quiet

“The challenge for me was to make the silence loud”


- CANNES 2024: The director unpicks his first feature, an intimate portrait of a young tennis player who has to contend with her coach’s misfortunes as well as her own secrets

Leonardo van Dijl • Director of Julie Keeps Quiet

Leonardo van Dijl made a name for himself with his short film Stephanie (2020), previously selected for Cannes and screened at more than 150 festivals worldwide. His first feature, Julie Keeps Quiet [+see also:
film review
interview: Leonardo van Dijl
film profile
, screening in the Critics’ Week at Cannes, is an intimate portrait of a young tennis player who has to contend with her coach’s misfortunes as well as her own secrets.

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Cineuropa: What is the movie mainly about, for you?
Leonardo van Dijl:
It’s a film about silence. I approached the movie with the idea that silence is universal, and we all somehow have silences in us. I use the word “silence”, not “secrets”. Silence can be things that you don’t want to talk about, that you don’t know how to talk about, that you would like to talk about but can’t, or that you’re not able to talk about. I felt the question of silence was the right angle to tell my story, and to talk about the world we live in. And I also hoped the story would feel as timeless as it does universal. For me, Julie’s journey is almost mythical, in the way that it’s like an Ancient Greek story. She’s a tragic heroine, in the vein of Hercules or Antigone. My challenge was to make the silence loud.

Who is Julie?
She’s a 15-year-old girl and a very good tennis player. She’s not that good in school, but she’s very smart nonetheless. Very sensitive as well. She’s an innocent girl who finds herself burdened with very heavy responsibilities and moral dilemmas. She’s kind of like Hamlet: for her, it’s “to speak or not to speak”. If she speaks, at some point she will lose a little bit of herself, but if she doesn’t, she will face the same issues. It’s heartbreaking for such a young person. She deserves to be innocent, to be relieved of this burden.

It’s a very intimate portrait, as we’re always with her.
We had to go through things with her, to see how she perceives the world and how the world perceives her. But I actually tried to create some distance; I didn’t want to be too close to her. We mainly did medium and long shots. I needed the audience to see what’s around her. Julie’s silence doesn’t only affect her; it affects everybody around her. I think my actress [Tessa Van den Broeck] was so good that she was able to establish the relationship between Julie and the audience by herself.

The way you worked on the lighting is very specific: there are a lot of curtains, dusks and dawns, then some bright sun when Julie seems to free herself.
Yes, it may sound cheesy, but I wanted to bring some light into her silence, to bring her out of the shadows. When the story starts, she’s extremely isolated, separated from the world. She leaves wintertime and enters summertime. I wanted to remind the audience, through Julie’s journey, that it’s okay to be silent. Just take your time, it’s gonna be ok. Then she’s getting agency in her life. She does not allow anyone to take away her passion; she has to keep on playing tennis.

Can you tell us about the sound design and music?
I worked with Caroline Shaw. She’s extremely talented and very eclectic. She can do classical music and also work with Kanye West. She’s a 360-degree musician. It may seem weird, but I did not want to talk too much about the music with Caroline. I wanted to be in the viewer’s seat, in a way. I just made it clear that I wanted the music to be an expression of Julie’s silence. I feel Caroline succeeded in writing Julie’s song. That suited me, as I just wanted to follow her path.

As for the sound design, we thought about many ways to express silence. Sometimes it’s a loud silence, a humming one, sometimes not, and sometimes you can hear it, like it’s too silent! It added layers to the story.

What about tennis?
Julie does not go on the court to numb her psychological pain with a physical one; sport is not a form of pain for her. It gives her energy. Her sport brings her back to herself, just like meditation, for example. And we have so many misconceptions about tennis. I wanted to portray the fact that tennis is more than this. Julie is not your usual “tennis girl”; I wanted to build a new archetype.

What was the greatest artistic challenge for you?
I think it was the development stage, as I had to convince people that I wanted to make a movie about silence. If you call your movie Julie Keeps Quiet, you get told that there’s no movie possible – or maybe just a short one – if your character doesn’t talk. I had to stand firm and convey to readers the story I had in mind. Then, along the way, things started to change around me, around us. Society’s shifting, even more right now. Then I found my actress, and I felt everything got easier. And then we ended up at Cannes. It couldn’t get any better.

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