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Jaco van Dormael • Director

"Spending time on a set with your friends is a fantastic job"


- CANNES 2015: Belgian director Jaco van Dormael sat down with Cineuropa following the world premiere of his latest comedy, The Brand New Testament

Jaco van Dormael  • Director
(© Delphine Pincet)

Belgian director Jaco van Dormael sat down with Cineuropa following the world premiere of his latest comedy, The Brand New Testament [+see also:
film review
interview: Jaco van Dormael
film profile
, which he finished just in time for it to be selected in the Directors' Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: For how long have you been toying with the idea of the film, and did you regard it as a reaction to the complicated experience of your previous film, Mr Nobody [+see also:
film review
interview: Jaco Van Dormael
interview: Jaco Van Dormael
film profile
Jaco van Dormael:
This is the first time I have written in collaboration with someone (editor's note: with Thomas Gunzig), and we had the objective of making each other laugh. Together, we came up with the pitch for the film after some time, before filming Mr Nobody: God exists, and he lives in Brussels with his wife and his ten-year-old daughter, who posts the dates of everyone's death on the internet. The reaction to Mr Nobody, which was a fairly grandiose film, was Kiss & Cry, a minimalist experiment that mixed theatre, dance and film, in which I asked myself how we would make a film on a kitchen table… I needed that freedom. That short-lived film allowed me to express myself in the sphere of Arte Povera. The Brand New Testament is the result of my two previous experiments. I didn’t spend a lot of money when the scenes could be crafted by hand in such a convincing way. What matters to me is not a type of movie that describes reality, but rather a movie that talks about perception.

So The Brand New Testament is our world seen through the eyes of a little girl who is also out of the ordinary: the daughter of God...
Everything she discovers is true and false at the same time. There is some theatricality in the scenes and the structuring of the film into episodes that we presented as gospels. With Christophe Beaucarne, my DoP, and Sylvie Olivier, the head of production design, we set our hearts on filming everything in a front-facing and symmetrical way, like in churches. The results are very specific sets like a car park, but they happen to resemble each other thanks to the symmetry, which adds a certain degree of religiousness to the shots. We constantly blend secularity and religion.

And is religion, the premise of God and the apostles, a pretext?
The film is not about religion. It is a comedic outlet. We made the film on the basis of “what if…?” What if God existed and he lived in Brussels? What if he was a bastard? And what if Jesus wasn’t his only child? What if he had a wife, would she have made something else of the world we live in? It was important to tell ourselves that, contrary to the Bible and religion, we were going to give women more of a say. They have a right to speak and to create. There are two new female saints and one other woman who speaks very little, but she saves the world...

Did the film’s special effects require a lot of work?
It depends on the scene, but there are some very noticeable effects in the film, like the sky at the end, which were done on the last day on a laptop computer as we were sat down in the kitchen.

How was directing the actors?
The actors' performances reflect several wishes. For example, seeing Benoit Poelvoorde in a silly, nasty role, or Yolande Moreau in a dressing gown, vacuuming... These are the joys that I share with the audience. These are actors who I obviously know very well but who I hadn't yet worked with. We wanted to enjoy ourselves and make sure it was a pleasant experience for everyone. Perhaps that seems something of a cliché but the result is hilarious and irrefutable. There are some roles that are more a matter of preparation and that are just as funny, like François Damiens' role or Catherine Deneuve's. They were happy to play characters that were different to their usual ones.

The film was very warmly received by the audience in the Directors' Fortnight. Will that energy encourage you to get started with your next film sooner?
It is true that I am a director who takes his time. I have not made many films. The Brand New Testament is already the film I have made the fastest – just two years, during which I only had five days' holiday. I don’t know how those who are faster do it. Being a screenwriter with kids of a young age is a great job, as it allows you to work from home. Now that my kids are older, I think that being a director and spending my time with friends on a set is also a fantastic job that perhaps I'll be able to devote more time to.

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