Felix van Groeningen • Director
by Anne Feuillère
19/03/2007 - Felix van Groeningen’s feature debut Steve + Sky, was warmly received in 2004, garnering close to 40,000 admissions. Now the young Flemish filmmaker and graduate of the Ghent Académie des Beaux Arts (KASK) has made his second feature, Dagen Zonder Lief [trailer] (lit. “Days Without Love”).
Produced again by Dirk Impens for Menuet, the film paints a sober and modest portrait of a generation of thirtysomethings in the throes of growing up. The return of one of them to a small Flemish town puts a whole group of old friends to the test, each realising what he or she has become and all measuring the time that has passed between the past and the present.
Cineuropa: Like your previous film this one has young blondes and roads. You seem to like blondes and roundabouts a lot.
Felix van Groeningen: (laughs) Yes, that’s true. I have some strange fetishes (laughs)! Even in my short films, the women are blonde! As for roundabouts, I came across them when we decided to shoot in Sint-Niklaas. Going to and coming from this place and filming the buildings in the surrounding area was a way of showing the town, its dimensions, its houses. Then in the flashback we see the whole group having a party there. We visit and revisit this place until the viewer understands that it is a special place for the group, one where they were very happy.
Is the film nostalgic?
Yes, but in a somewhat odd way because the movement of the film is a little strange. When the brunette, Kelly, comes back she organises a group get-together and when the group meets up, each person realises that things are no longer like before, they’ve lost something and they part ways once again. Growing up also means looking death in the face. That’s what the film is about – showing that love, friendship and life don’t last forever. Everything changes. That’s what it’s like, there are other reasons to be happy. You change.
In Steve + Sky you depicted a couple, and now you’re depicting a generation.
That’s what I’ve tried to do, illustrate a whole generation through different characters. I’ve always liked talking about people my age, groups in my films, I did that a lot in my shorts. In Steve + Sky, I wanted only two characters so that I could concentrate on very visual aspects; I wanted to prove I was capable of that control. I think you set yourself a different objective in each film. In this one, I put all my energy into the story and the characters.
On a stylistic level, this film is also more realistic and serious.
I think I’ve taken a big step because the balance between form and content seems right to me. We made quite radical stylistic choices but these are not so obvious and tend to be related to the story. For example, this town that we wanted more or less deserted … this brings character to the film without necessarily dominating it.
What’s your relationship with Flemish cinema?
Flemish films are often commercial, written according to well-established formulas, star well-known actors and do well in cinemas. That’s not what I’m trying to do (laughs)! I’m not the only one wanting to be a filmmaker. Others like Fien Troch or Koen Mortier are interested in making films in a different way. When Steve + Sky was released a year after Tom Barman’s Anyway the Wind Blows [trailer] people talked about a new wave of Flemish cinema. These were really the first two different films. Only two films! (laughs). We don’t talk about them [films] any more but it [the wave] is still there.