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Amélie van Elmbt • Director

"My work is based on meetings that occur both in fiction and in real life"


- We met up with Belgian director Amélie van Elmbt, whose latest film The Elephant and the Butterfly comes out in Belgian cinemas today

Amélie van Elmbt  • Director

Five years after Headfirst [+see also:
film review
film profile
Amelie van Elmbt returns with The Elephant and the Butterfly [+see also:
film review
interview: Amélie van Elmbt
film profile
, a second sensitive and surprising film about the light-hearted encounter of a father and his five-year-old daughter, whom he has never met before, and a weekend suspended in time, full of love, transmission and discovery. The film is released this Wednesday 22 November in Belgium, distributed by Les Films du Fleuve and Alibi Communications.

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Cineuropa: Where does this project come from, both in terms of its substance and its form?
Amelie van Elmbt:
There are several things. The first one being that I've raised my daughter single-handedly since she was very young. I was very interested in sharing my passion for cinema with her, as she always sees me working on my projects.

My work is also based on the idea of ​​the meeting, a meeting that occurs both in fiction and in real life. The two characters meet for the first time on the first day of filming. I work in chronological order, on a story that is not just carried by the plot, but also exists off camera, in real life, developing around fiction. Hence the desire to meet this meeting.

The film asks the question: what makes a father?
When I had my daughter, I felt her grow inside me, it was something very strong, and very physical. When you become a father, it often happens in several stages, it's in the bond which is created with the child that the father recognises himself as a father, and the child recognises his or herself as the child of that father. It is a process of double recognition, which must happen twice over. And if said connection does not occur at the beginning of the child's life, if the father turns up 5 years later?

5 years of age is a very special time that I’m very fond of, I wanted to capture its spontaneity, fluidity, and lack of awareness of the camera.

Would you call it a family film?
I went to see Les Films du Fleuve because the company operates like a family, they work in a small committee, and that's what I wanted. And I also film chronologically, like them, so I thought they'd understand my cinema. I sent them my screenplay without even registering it, they took a long time to answer, I'd almost forgotten! The financing was complicated, it didn't go the way I had planned. The filming conditions were difficult in terms of timing, but that's inherent in auteur cinema, right? Luke and Jean-Pierre Dardenne are very discreet, they don’t take up too much space, they are aware of the weight of their name. I learnt a lot.  I've still not yet managed to create my cinema family, but it's something that I would like to develop.

I wanted to do something with my daily life. Most of my life has been devoted to my daughter since she was born, but since I'm obsessed with cinema, I had to do something outside of my role as a mother. At one point my role as a mother and my role as a filmmaker had to come together. And I also needed to work too. Reflecting on the film, it was a breath of fresh air in my daily life, finally.

The film also speaks a lot about transmission...
This is one of the themes that interests me. Among my friends, I am pretty much the only one to have such a young child. I’ve noticed that our generation of thirty-somethings is very concerned with being socially fulfilled, and spend a long time wondering if they're ready to have children. But I think, in a way, you can actually accomplish that by having children.

What other projects are on the cards?
I've wanted to go to the United States and make a film there for a long time, it was really an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up, especially as Martin Scorsese has supported me since my first film. It's been five years since I made my first film, and I find it unbearable waiting for funding without working. Over there I’ve been working on the adaptation of a novel, in a rather radical language, it's called L’Amour même. Every week I work with live performing artists. I try to create a space where you can try things out, get them wrong, create things. It’s an unconventional film, in terms of feelings. I've also just started working with Juliette Van Dormael. If I were to write something, it would feel very flat, but when I create the situation, with bodies, ideas begin to formulate. In fact, some might call it research!

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(Translated from French)

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