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TRANSILVANIA 2024

Joren Molter • Director of Summer Brother

“The most physically and mentally disabled person in the film is the one who can offer love and attention”

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- The first-time Dutch director explains the relationships between his characters and reflects on the complex notion of disability

Joren Molter • Director of Summer Brother
(© Transilvania IFF/Chris Nemes)

After having premiered locally at the most recent Nederlands Film Festival and celebrated its international premiere at the Zlín Film Festival for Children and Youth last month, the Dutch coming-of-age drama Summer Brother [+see also:
film review
interview: Joren Molter
film profile
]
is now locking horns in the Transilvania International Film Festival’s Official Competition. On this occasion, we approached its director, Joren Molter, who provided some insights into the process of adapting the plot from literature to screen, the choice of the main locations and his fruitful work with the young actors.

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Cineuropa: Foreigners (2012), on which you appear as a co-director, is about people searching for new homes. Could we say that Brian, the main character in Summer Brother, is also a sort of “homeless” boy, looking for a stable living environment and a caring family?
Joren Molter:
I think we, as viewers, desire a stable home situation for Brian more than Brian himself. He doesn't know what he's missing, because he doesn't know anything else. He is definitely a wandering boy looking for affection. He tries to bond with almost all the people he meets, which often happens to abandoned boys. He wants to bond with his father, but he is not there all the time. He seeks affection from Selma, the intellectually disabled girl, who briefly fills in for a mother figure for him, but that relationship is not equal. His search continues with Emiel, the caravan renter, but that attention is temporary. Eventually, he receives the attention of his severely intellectually disabled brother Lucien, whom he was afraid of at first. As a result, he sees that his father is a sucker and can finally separate himself from him.

The film is based on Jaap Robben’s novel of the same name, but you worked on the script with another writer, Britt Snell. How did this process go?
Jaap is not a screenwriter but was involved during the writing process. Novels and film are two totally different art forms, with different rules and choices. If we had filmed all of the details, the movie would have lasted 20 hours. I've been working with Britt all my life, so it felt logical to begin this adventure with her.

I remembered each chapter as one picture, which helped me make the transition from book to film. Therefore, I wanted to capture each scene in one shot. This is why we even shot the film in our own, invented, 1:55 aspect ratio, the one used for photo frames and never applied to film formats.

The Netherlands looks unusually shabby in the film. Was this intentional?
Not really. The movie is set on the Dutch-Belgian border. We made this terrain look industrial because I wanted to stay far away from trailer-park travellers. Who am I to say anything about them? I was looking for a location where one can immediately see that children are not supposed to be raised there. That is why the film is set in an industrial area with rusty iron.

My greatest urge to make this film has to do with the macho male type. Among all of the characters with disabilities, the father is the most disabled person. He is incapable of showing affection. Meanwhile, the most physically and mentally disabled person in the film can offer love and attention. So, who is actually disabled? For me, it’s the macho father.

How did you cast the young actors, and what were the challenges of working with them?
I couldn't find a decent Brian in the Netherlands, so I started looking in Belgium. I finally found a boy who would rather have been a car mechanic than a film actor. The role of Lucien was more difficult to cast. There are no casting agencies that include people with disabilities, so I started looking on my own. On the internet, I found a boy who was too young, but the article in question was from 2018, and coincidentally, he was the right age [at the time I was looking]. We called him, and a few days later, I met him. Five minutes later, I gave him the role because he played it superbly. Joël in 't Veld has a physical disability (spasms) but is not intellectually challenged. This allowed me to direct him as an actor.

Would you continue working in the coming-of-age genre?
I am currently working on a new film that also coincidentally can be defined as coming of age, but I don't want to restrict myself to a genre. I have four other projects that don't fall into this genre. I would love to shoot the coming-of-age film hopefully next year.

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