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"I make action films for the soul"

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Michael Roskam • Director

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- VENICE 2017: In conversation with Michaël Roskam, who world-premiered at Venice Racer and the Jailbird, Belgium’s entry to the Oscars

Michael Roskam • Director
(© La Biennale di Venezia - foto ASAC)

Michaël Roskam has taken the international film scene by storm since his first feature film Bullhead [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Bart Van Langendonck
interview: Michaël R. Roskam
film profile
]
, a sucker punch about a Flemish farmer who is (literally) neck deep in hormone trafficking. Unveiled at Berlin, the film did the rounds of festivals, and finally landed in Hollywood, representing Belgium in the final five vying for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Roskam then began his American adventure with The Drop, before returning to Belgium for his third feature film Racer and the Jailbird [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Michael Roskam
film profile
]
, where he, once again, joins forces with Matthias Schoenaerts. World-premiering at the Venice Film Festival, the film will be Belgium’s entry to the Oscars.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Cineuropa: Within your repertoire of gangster films, Racer and the Jailbird is, above all else, a film about love?
Michaël Roskam: Yes, my film is essentially a tragic love story. It is a film about desire and absolute love. It is a bit of a far-fetched creation from my end, a variation of a timeless tale – the clash between Eros and Thanatos.

I also wanted to tell a story inspired by a chapter in the criminal history of Belgium. I drew a lot of inspiration from the famous Belgian gangsters of the 1990s like Patrick Haemers, Murat Kaplan, Basri Bajrami, Philippe Lacroix… And I was especially inspired by their love stories, which also received major media coverage at the time. The women were very present in these stories, more or less willingly. Gino, alias Gigi, the main character played by Matthias Schoenaerts, is a sort of distillation of all gangsters. In Bullhead, I was inspired by the hormone mafia. Here, my inspiration came from the world of flamboyant bank robbers. I have taken elements from them and have recreated an archetype, a charming, handsome dangerous gangster, who is still not a psychopath. Bibi, Bénédicte, played by Adèle Exarchopoulos, is a race car driver. She loves racing, and the two are madly in love. 

Are these two characters in search of an adrenaline rush?
Without a doubt. And this quest for adrenaline is also at the heart of my love for cinema, created by suspense and tension. Sometimes I say that I make actions films for the soul. I love car racing. I am a real petrol head, a car addict. I liked having a female character that defies clichés. She is charming, beautiful AND a driver, immersed in a world that runs on testosterone. Therefore, Bibi is also a symbol of innocence, a moral compass in the film; she has strong morals. This is also reflected in the racing world, a closed, legal circuit. Gigi is not on the legal circuit, he rushes straight ahead, straight into moral or ethical obstacles.

Are you, once again, exploring the beast in human beings?
The beast has a very important place in my stories. Here, the dog is very present, like a metaphor for Gino’s personality, for his savage animal side. He is looking for love, not only to love back, but also for submission, to be tamed. This is one of the questions asked by the film. Love is not only desire, it is also about voluntarily being put on a leash, because it gives structure to life, a certainty that is necessary. It is a paradox: On one hand you feel trapped, and at the same time, you like this idea, as long as you know that the door is open. You often find dogs lying with their behinds in the room and their heads at the edge of the door. This is what dogs symbolise for me.

How do you feel about being selected for Venice?
For me, being in Venice is a gift. Venice is the city of love, and what better location than this city for my film?

(Translated from French)

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