GoCritic! Interview: Tim Mielants • Director of Patrick
"I used the five stages of grief as my structure: denial, anger, paranoia, depression and finally, acceptance"
- GoCritic! chatted with the Belgian filmmaker whose first feature film world-premiered in Karlovy Vary Competition
An absurdist dark comedy set in a Belgian naturist camp, Tim Mielants' directorial debut Patrick [+see also:
interview: GoCritic! Interview: Tim Mi…
interview: Tim Mielants
film profile] was among the early highlights of the Crystal Globe competition at Karlovy Vary this year. We sat down with him at the Czech spa resort to talk about the inspiration behind the film and its unusual protagonist.
GoCritic!: How did the idea of the film, taking place at the nudist camp, came about?
Tim Mielants: A long time ago, in 1985, my parents took me to a small nudist camp that doesn’t exist any more. As a 6-year-old boy I just remember the strange atmosphere, bizarre people – something that stayed with me and never left. That’s how the idea of the nudist camp came about, and, in a way, I got to turn this experience into a film. I was also hearing stories that the campsite was once managed by a mother and son, and the mother was blind and didn’t know that people were walking around naked… and an even stranger story: my father had a very good friendship with a guy, not knowing that he was a Basque terrorist. This campsite was basically a base camp for terrorists, for ETA, the Basque separatist group.
I started doing interviews with everybody who was there during that summer, collecting a lot of material over the years. Then we started writing and exploring themes that were important to us, like grief, what does one wants to do with their life, and all these deeper existential things. It took a while to write it and that’s maybe the reason there are so many different genres in the movie – it’s got some comedy, some thriller, horror elements as well.
What was the inspiration behind creating such a peculiar character as Patrick?
When I was still in high school, I was often patronised by teachers who were telling me what I should do to be happy: have a career, be ambitious, study. That’s why I was always fascinated with these handymen at school, or people working on football pitches… to me, they felt like people without ambition, people who were not slaves to the norms of society. These guys – a lot of times they were called Patrick – were usually introverted, sensitive and not very talkative; they didn’t get to live in their own world, but they were dreaming their own dream and not what society told them to. Those people would usually be put in a corner, called names… but I always thought being like that is beautiful and I fell very much in love with this kind of a character.
Patrick is a man of few words, which means a large portion of his story-arc is non-verbal. Was this a challenge when it came to directing?
Yes, it was much harder to direct this than it would be to direct a movie with a lot of dialogue. In every action of the protagonist, there is a thought process behind it: “What is he thinking about, what’s going on in his head?” That was something I had to discuss and explore with the actor [Kevin Janssens], which was very challenging. We had long and deep conversations about it.
One of the most astonishing things about this film is how quickly we forget about the nudity. Were actors in any way apprehensive, reluctant even, about being nude when you approached them with this project?
I was worried about it at first. Is this going to work, can I do this? I knew this whole idea was very bold. But when they read the script and we got to talk about it, they all felt like the film is not about nudity at all. None of them said no to the role because of the nudity and a lot of them were even happy that nudity wasn’t put into a sexual context, the way it's been done most of the time. You can really say about this film whatever you want, but it’s not sexual [laughs].
The nudity even worked in my advantage: the guy who plays Herman (Pierre Bokma) is kind of a Marlon Brando of the Netherlands. I initially thought: “He will never do it, he’s too big to go into that kind of a film!” But he read it and met with me, and his response was: “I probably wouldn’t do this movie, but because it’s naked I’m going for it” [laughs].
How did you set up the tone of the film - balancing both comedy and serious matters, like grief and existential issues?
It came about very naturally; we didn’t do it on purpose. Structurally, I used the five stages of grief: denial, anger, paranoia, depression and finally, acceptance, going back to being yourself. For example, when you lose a hammer while you're in the paranoia stage like Patrick does, you start thinking that someone’s doing something behind your back [laughs]. So then visually we emphasised that paranoid atmosphere… Following the stages of the grief process, different genres emerges. But the comedy was always there.
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