Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne 형제 감독 인터뷰 , Guardian지. 06. 2.11
Geoff Andrew talks to Palme d'Or winners Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne about babies on set, using non-professional actors, and the troubles they had making the transition from documentaries to feature films
'Still makes me laugh' ... Luc (left) and Jean-Pierre Dardenne at the NFT, Photograph: Sarah Lee
Geoff Andrew: The first clip we showed was from Lorsque le bateau de Léon M descendit la Meuse pour la première fois, which is the earliest film of yours that we're showing in our retrospective. How and why did you go into film-making, and why into documentary film-making?
Luc Dardenne [speaking through interpreter Juliet Dante]: I think it's because we met a theatre director and writer, Armand Gatti, who had fought with the Royal Air Force during the second world war, when he was 18. He wrote and made films, and in 1960, he made a great film called L'enclos. He then came to Belgium and was teaching at the drama school where my brother was studying, and that's how we met. We worked with him, and when he went to Germany, he left us, and we wondered what we could do. He worked with a camera, which we'd never touched before. So we worked for some months to earn money to buy a videocamera. And then we did the kind of things he had been doing, making portraits of people. For him, this was an extension of his theatre work, but for us, we were interested in going to the workers' areas. A lot of these workers' estates have no communal space, and so there's no place for people to talk to each other, so we decided that we would go and film these people and tell their stories, perhaps of moments in their lives where they come up against some injustice. So we would film them during the week and then on the weekend show the films in a café or a local church. And that was a way for people to see and listen to other people in the same estate. We did that for a few years, and then we started to build on that experience and to write our own stories. That's how it developed.
GA: The films look pretty political - they're about labour relations and community history. Did you see yourself as political film-makers at the time?
Jean-Pierre Dardenne [through Juliet Dante]: We kind of started on a false premise - we thought that no one was telling these stories. This point of view came about more from the fact that we didn't know that there were already films about the workers' movement. So ignorance was what motivated us, but perhaps not a conscious ignorance. We just weren't aware that we didn't know, we just thought there was nothing there. And that's what motivated us to do, among others, this film. But above all, it was meeting the man [Léon Mazy] who built the boat. We had met him before, when we were making another film, and he told us stories. We had a rather ambitious project of making a film focusing on different periods in the workers' movement in our region. The first one would have been set in the second world war, focusing on the resistance against the Nazis. We met a lot of people - some we filmed but never found a place for in one of our documentaries, others we never filmed but just chatted with and listened to. We took great pleasure in meeting them and listening to their stories. And among these people was Léon Mazy, who became the main character of this film. He had been an important militant in the workers' movement in Seraing, an area that we have used in many of our films. At one point, he had become discouraged. They had given him a position in the factory that isolated him from other people. His job was controlling the flow, in and out, of water to the foundry, so he would spend eight hours a day looking at dials on his instrument panel. But the job didn't take into account the fact that he was a very good mechanic, and also prevented him from seeing people. So, discouraged, he decided to invest all his knowledge into building a boat, and then he would leave. So we wanted to make a film about how his construction of the boat was a way for him to recover his dignity, and also, the journey of the boat down the river would lead him to rediscover the places that had been important to the workers' movement through the years. It was an idea that Armand Gatti himself might have come up with.
GA: After making documentaries for a few years, you then made your first feature, Falsch, which was based on a play and was a very non-naturalistic film. And then you made a film called Je pense à vous, which like your documentaries, is set in Seraing, and is about a man who suddenly finds himself made redundant, and finds that very difficult. In a way, it's the link between your documentaries and your later films. But you were very unhappy with this film - why?
LD: The script itself, the choice of actors, set, film crew, none of these things were our decisions. Not that these decisions were made by others and imposed on us, but things were happening without us saying yes or no. We kind of said yes to things because we ourselves didn't know. We didn't know where to put the camera, so an actor would say, "Why not put it here?" and the director of photography would say, "Why not over there?" and then the assistant director would bring in his point of view. So this film was made, not against us, but without us. I think we got frightened with cinema. We came from working with video, and we weren't regarded as film-makers by the profession. In fact, we were seen as comedians, not serious. I think we internalised a lot of things and told ourselves that we had to learn a lot. It's unfortunate because on the film, everybody wanted the best for us, but in actual fact, what they were doing was just digging a bigger hole and we were sinking. One thing that was important for us, that we had on Falsch but not on Je pense à vous, was a video monitor. For us that's crucial because when we shoot, one of us is behind the video monitor while the other is with the actors. And that's how we talk, we discuss the work that we're doing in front of the monitor. Without it, we weren't really able to work, the two of us, together. So, that's one of the reasons why this film, for us, was very bad.
GA: I'm going to turn now to Au dos de nos images - On the Back of Our Images - this book that's a collection of excerpts from Luc's diary but which Luc says also includes Jean-Pierre's thoughts. You say in the book that La Promesse was in many ways your first film - what were the decisions you made on La Promesse that ensured you didn't make the same mistakes as on Je pense à vous?
JPD: What I remember is this: we said two things to each other - first, cinema is not obligatory; there are a lot of things one can do in life. If it doesn't work for us this time, we'll just find other things to do. What, we didn't know yet, but something. Second, we told each other we had to find again the joy and freedom we had when we worked on documentaries, when it was just we two. And we knew that between us, we covered all the parts needed for film-making. And this translated in each stage of the project: for the script, we went into it ourselves and didn't let anything out. Because after Je pense à vous, the world of Belgian cinema was whispering that they had assisted in our suicide. So we decided that they had all become our enemies, and having enemies is very important to start to work. So we worked on the script, and we told ourselves a few things: that we would not work with well-known actors; we would work in locations chosen only by ourselves; the crew around us would only be friends and people chosen by us; and we would organise every aspect of the shoot ourselves. And most of all, we would have the least possible amount of technology, of technical mediation. Because we'd noticed that on the previous film, which was not a heavy film, we had felt like the shopfloor manager in a factory, which is still a respectable job, but not what we wanted to do. What we came to realise was that it was more important to use the time to work with actors and their bodies. So everything had to be organised from that starting point - working with the actor's body. We also realised that on the last film, we didn't know where to position the camera. What we hadn't realised was that in order to film what you want to show on a face or a body, you first have to decide what you want to hide. So with these rules, we went on.
GA: La Promesse is a film about a father and a son. It seems to me to be a subject that you keep coming back to - it's certainly there in Le Fils and L'Enfant. Why this fascination with parental relations?
LD: I keep getting the heavy questions. Well, the subject is the beginning of humanity: that's where we come from. When you go back in time, it's the story of the father and mother; and the future is the story of our children and their children. The day that we are unable to be fathers and mothers, then humanity is finished. That's when the monkey will come back to claim his skull, and animals will rule on this planet. What we're interested in is what can still happen between a parent and a child. Maybe it comes also from the fact that in the city where we make our films, we have seen families destroyed by economic crisis, drugs, unemployment, truancy, and now kids are earning more than their parents but from illegal means. People are more and more alone. When we first wrote La Promesse, we had an older character who was supposed to provide guidance to the younger characters. But then we realised that this was nostalgic - now, there is no one to be that voice. So we put them in a situation and asked the question, how are these people, who are now alone and without the help of the past, going to find their way to be fully human. That's very paradoxical because, as in La Promesse, to become human, the young boy needs to betray his father, when normally it should be the opposite.
GA: Interestingly, in your book, you reveal that your scripts go through many changes. For instance, Rosetta in the original script had a father. I know that Le Fils was partly inspired by the James Bulger case here in Liverpool in 1993, but the film didn't get made until 2002. Do you feel it's important to give your films a long time to gestate?
LD: Yes. We're a bit like cows, we like to graze. It's true, the event in Liverpool marked us, as it did everybody else.
GA: It seems to me that your stories are based on real-life events, but also stories from the Bible and mythology. For instance, you often talk about the story of Abraham and Isaac in relation to Le Fils.
LD: Yes, because Abraham doesn't have to kill Isaac, and that's the foundation of humanity. We thought a lot about that when we made Le Fils. We like to chat between ourselves about these Biblical characters, and people from literature as well. Before we make a film, we often talk about related books and exchange ideas.
JPD: To add to what my brother said, we read Toni Morrison before La Promesse. And one thing that impresses us about her writing and the way she organised her stories, is how a reader is drawn into the story - you're never sure where you are but little by little, clarity comes through.
GA: And that's a method you like to use - very often you plunge us into a situation and it is only very gradually that we discover why these characters are behaving in that way towards each other.
JPD: Thank you, Toni Morrison.
LD: It's to avoid explaining to the viewer that this character's mother did this and so that's why he's behaving that way. Because when you do that, the character ceases to exist. This is why in mainstream cinema, when you explain why the characters behave in a certain way, the audience understands, but really we have understood nothing. We want the viewer of our films not to be able to explain where they have come from and why they're behaving that way, but they'll be able to see that these characters will be able to get through.
GA: I'd like you to talk about how you work with actors. For instance, you've used Olivier Gourmet in a number of your films, and encouraged him, it seems to me, to give very little. Do you tell them a little bit about the character, do you encourage them to do certain things, or do you leave them to discover the character themselves?
JPD: I don't know, I've forgotten. Using the example of Olivier in Le Fils, as you know, we filmed him a lot from the back. Which is terrible for an actor, they know that things happen on their face, in their eyes. But we, from time to time, we hid his face and his eyes so that when we do show them, you can really see that he's going through something. So I'll talk just about our work with him on that film. Olivier Gourmet is a professional actor, unlike the young leads in La Promesse, Rosetta and L'Enfant. He has been trained in how to use his voice, his body, his eyes, all his tools. So it's completely different working with him as opposed to the others. But one thing in common, we never talk to them about the psychology of the character, not ever. It's true that Olivier had the script, and we learned afterwards that he did a lot of background work - he read and reread the script, and even met some people who had been through that sort of experience. But on set, we only asked him to do the motions or gestures necessary for the scene, and to find the timing for these gestures. Each time, Olivier would say that his character surely wanted to kill Francis, and that it was necessary for that to come through in the scene. But we would destabilise him a bit, we would say, "Are you sure? We wouldn't say that that's really what this is about." The situation is just so huge, this man who has to spend time with a boy who is linked to his past; and only he knows it, the boy doesn't. And so, over the course of an hour-and-a-half of the film, we're measuring the distance between the two characters of Olivier and Francis. We kept saying to him, "Do less, be neutral." That was the obsession we had with Olivier in this film, that he be as neutral as possible. We don't usually consider the script as some sort of sacred text that cannot be changed, but here we were very careful that the actors didn't add anything other than what was in the script. There were long, single shots, and things can happen, so it was extremely important that the actors didn't add their little bit. Some complained, saying, "Oh, I don't have any freedom with you anymore, like on La Promesse, what a shame."
LD: I'll tell you an anecdote. Our mother read a newspaper interview with Gourmet where he said that he invented some of the dialogues in the film, and the journalist said, "So you're part of the scriptwriting team?" and Gourmet said, "Well, in a certain way, yes." So our mother called us up and said, "I read that Gourmet wrote the script; isn't it you who write the script?" So we had to assure her that we were the scriptwriters. So now, whenever Gourmet wants to change a word, we say, "Hang on a minute, we'll just telephone our mother and see if that's all right."
JPD: Also, in terms of relating to actors, there's a certain mystery in that. A big part of our work with Olivier is in the fact that we've chosen him. Through what he gives us and what he represents and what he gives to the camera, it's a choice we've made. So maybe the greatest work is being able to find the right person for the role.
LD: Choosing the right person, but also creating a tension on the set in the weeks before we shoot, so that the actor feels that he's taken on the character and so you don't actually need to direct him. That comes not only from us but also from the crew, but it's something that has to be created. A very important element of that is the choice of wardrobe - we spend a month, a month-and-a-half choosing the clothes before shooting. Everyday, we take the actor through different items of clothing, and in the process the actor abandons certain images of the character that he might have had, lets go, and abandons himself to the character.
GA: Whose idea was Olivier's belt in Le Fils?
LD: That, actually, was in the script, because we thought of our father. He used to use that.
GA: More fathers and sons.
JPD: And something else is important. I think the day we made Olivier come to his character's flat, it gave him a lot of information on how we saw his character [also called Olivier]. Everyone has the script, so everyone invents the film in his or her own head. At some point we have to make sure that our vision of what the film is to be pulls everybody together. Of course it is a collaborative process, but it has to be our vision that emerges. So when we showed Olivier this bare flat, he was very surprised because he probably had his own idea of how the character lived. He had imagined a much more inhabited place, with lots of objects that tell his story. But we'd put him in a flat that could have been the dwelling of a hitman or an international terrorist or serial killer, this bare flat that had no traces of any backstory. Just a single bed in a corner, a table and two chairs, of which one was for the telephone. Really minimal. And I think that tells the actor a lot more about what you expect from him and is more useful than going into huge psychological discussions.
GA: Let's open it to the floor now.
Question 1: How often do you work with non-actors? How do you find them and how do you direct them? And is that book going to be translated into English?
LD: No, it's not going to be translated. In terms of actors, we put ads in local papers, ask for a recent photo and contact details. We receive a lot of responses, so as a starting point - not a brilliant way, it's true - we base our choice on the photos. So from let's say 1,000, we take 300-400. And then, together with a friend, we film them. This, because they're usually still schooling, we do on Wednesday afternoons, when they have half-days, or Saturdays. We ask them to do something for about 10 minutes and film them. And from these 300-400 people, we get it down to 10 and then to two and one. By the time we get to the last two, we've basically done the whole film with them, all the scenes. We never give them the exact script but we do scenes that are very close, so at that point we can sense which one is the best. It's a combination of the best, and also whether they're physically appropriate. When we start, we don't really have a physical idea of the character, whether he is blond or dark, fat or thin, we don't know. So it's the body of this actor, who is not yet an actor, that will win him or her the part. For example, we never thought Rosetta would look like that, or Sonia [from L'Enfant], or Igor [from La Promesse]. And we're never sure ourselves when we give them the chance. So it's a long process.
Question 1 add: Do you do that for all the parts, even the bit parts? LD: Not all of the characters, because of course the ones we film the most are the main characters. But we do do that a little for the smaller parts.
JPD: With the smaller roles, we're a bit more relaxed. So we either take actors we've worked with before, and some are professional actors. Sometimes it's people we see in the street; sometimes, friends recommend other people to us. People know how we work, so sometimes we're introduced to people who are not actors but they try out and it works and they end up in the film. We always give ourselves a challenge: there was one guy who was absolutely unable to remember more than three words of dialogue. He's perfectly fine in real life, but when we film him, he says three words then freezes and stares at us. We knew him from La Promesse, and we thought he would be fantastic as the night porter at the hostel where Bruno and Sonia go to stay. We thought if he put the tracksuit on, he would be able to fit the role really well. So we made him do a casting test, because others had tried for the role as well. He only had to speak a few simple words to Sonia, and he practised with my brother and I, but again, when the camera was on, he said three words and then made a face. We just couldn't believe it. But luckily for us, he doesn't articulate, so we could put all the bits of mumbling together in the editing. But he's very good.
Question 2: I was amused to see how many babies played the baby in the picture. But I was struck by the fact that in a way, the baby was not really there as a character, it only exists as a catalyst for everybody else.
LD: Yes, 21 babies were used. We even had one fake baby, which comes from London. We had to use so many because the law forbids us to film beyond a certain number of hours with one, and you also need a spare just in case one cries too loudly or is sick, which, incidentally, never happened. We noticed that when a baby was asleep, you could do whatever you wanted around it and it wouldn't be disturbed. All of them were about three-weeks-old, often little girls. There was one doll, which felt like a real baby, and whose body would look realistic when held by the actors. We used this doll in the two scenes where it was slightly more dangerous: the scene on the road and on the moped. But otherwise we were always very careful that the baby was always seen to be alive - there was always a moving hand, for example. But he also needed, to some extent, to be just an object, because that is the point of the father. So that's why he had to be there, but also be an object of exchange.
Question 3: Do you feel an affinity with Eric Rohmer? You seem to share common ground in naturalism and a moral interest in temptation.
JPD: I know a little of Rohmer's work, but I don't know enough to talk about it in relation to our work.
LD: I like his work very much as well, but you must recognise that there is a little more talk in Rohmer's work than in ours. But I can't really compare them either.
Question 4: The Bruno character in L'Enfant, in that final scene, did you choose to do it that way to show that he is taking responsibility for his actions or to show that he's beaten by the system?
LD: Very early on, we had decided that he would be crying at the end, and Sonia as well, and there would be a kind of reconciliation through the tears. And what was interesting for us is that in this scene, Bruno, who has spent the entire film running around, with the money, the baby, the pram, at that point, he stops. And crying is a way of stopping as well - he is overwhelmed by something bigger than him. That's how we saw it. And it is the only time in the film that he asks after his child. There were 18 takes, and we used the 18th. The only direction we gave the actors was, "You both don't know why the other is there." For example, Sonia's intention in being there could be to ask Bruno to sever all ties with her and the child so that she can start a new life. Equally, Bruno could see Sonia at the table and could decide to turn around and go. It was important that the viewer never got a sense of where the scene would end up. So we asked her to offer to go for coffee so as to put them in a routinised situation, and the tears had to come in one go, suddenly. So, yes, we told them, "You don't know where this is going", but by the 18th take, I think they had an idea.
Question 5: Your films are all set in a very specific place in Belgium. To what extent is being Belgian, and the idea of national identity, important to your film-making?
LD: It's difficult to say because everyday on the radio, our politicians ask themselves whether our country exists. And the ones who concede that the state exists wonder if it should carry on existing. But it's true, having said that, the state does exist: there are boundaries; there's one part where people speak Dutch, another where they speak French, and a small part where they speak German. Also, cinema and film-making has not existed in our country for all that long. Right up until the 60s, I would say that people who made films in the country were taking orders from the state. The first Belgian film-maker, who made several fiction films and was recognised on an international level, was André Delvaux. But the history of film-making in Belgium is small and short and you can't really compare it with that in Britain or France. There is not so much a film industry per se, we've all remained to a large extent craftsmen. The proof of this is that up until a few years ago, people who directed films produced them as well. Whether they've been Dutch- or French-speaking, these film-makers have retained this specific characteristic. That's my point of view, but maybe from your viewpoint as outsiders you see more things in common that give these films a national identity.
LD: In Belgium, they say that we're English.
GA: Has winning the Palme d'Or twice made it easier for you to make films?
LD: It's hard to say. We've only just got our second one [for L'Enfant], but I think the film has been bought for distribution in more countries than our earlier films. And our films don't cost that much to make. But we haven't had any particular problems getting funding for our films, so winning the Palme d'Or probably has a part to play in that. But I think if we did more expensive films it would still be a problem to get funding.
Question 6: From Rosetta on, I've noticed that you train the camera a lot on the main characters. What prompted that choice to concentrate the camera so intensely on them?
JPD: There comes a point when I feel like saying, because we felt it had to be done that way, because we're the boss. We decided it that way. In the case of Rosetta, we felt that the camera had to follow her really closely so that the audience would be able to sense her energy and empathise with her rage. To us, Rosetta was a war film, and she was a soldier going off to war. We felt we had to be with her. I remember, there was a character who had to come between Rosetta and the camera - it was a social worker - and he never managed to actually enter the frame. We took the scene several times, and we were embarrassed for the actor because he was sure he wasn't good enough. His entry worked in the script, but it just didn't work in the frame. So the poor actor actually refused payment, he thought it was his fault. It was terrible. We had to convince him that he was good, that it wasn't his fault at all. The part of Rosetta's mother, too, was not at all the same as it was originally written. And as we shot, and because we shoot chronologically, her character became less and less present. So again, she thought it was because she was doing something wrong and we had to reassure her otherwise. On the other hand, the character of Rosetta grew and grew, and she pulled us with her. She didn't leave much space for anyone else. So I'm sure that when the character of the mother chucks her into the water, the actor must have been very, very pleased.
LD: I think when we wrote Rosetta, we didn't want to build a plot around Rosetta, and produce a script that would have guided Rosetta. We wanted the story, the plot, the driving force to come from within her. If Rosetta does something, it's because of her and she faces the consequences of what she's done. When you're poor, you can't plan your life, so you just react to what life throws at you. So Rosetta moves in one direction, but then comes up against something and her direction changes. So as a result, we were a bit like that with her. We tried to work out how this girl can live in such a hostile environment. That's what we always tell ourselves, you need a plot but it needs to be something that has to come from the character and the situation, not something imposed or constructed around the character. So the viewer is not in front of a constructed plot, but is there with the character, moving forward.
JPD: In fact, a lot of people said to us that Rosetta made them sick.
LD: I'll tell you a story. When L'Enfant was about to be released in Belgium, we were invited to participate in a radio phone-in. So one lady rang and said, "I'd really like to see your new film, but your camera moves so much, it makes me sick. Is the camera still moving a lot in this one?" So I told her, jokingly, "Why not go see your doctor and ask for some motion sickness tablets, then go see the film." And she said, "Good idea, I will go see my doctor first before going to see your films."
GA: Sadly, I'm going to have to end it here, but not before asking a question that I'm sure will have a very short answer, especially given what you've said about why you went into film-making. Have you ever considered working separately?
JPD: No, because when he tells a story, and though it's a story I know well, it still makes me laugh, so why deprive myself of this pleasure?
LD: Same answer from me. We've worked together for 32 years already.
GA: Thank you, and thank you.