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BIFFF 2021

Stef Lernous • Director of Hotel Poseidon

“If I had to describe Hotel Poseidon, I’d say it’s a dreamlike film”

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- In his debut feature film, the Belgian director delivers a hallucinogenic film experience contemplating decay and decline

Stef Lernous • Director of Hotel Poseidon

We met with the film and theatre director Stef Lernous whose first feature film Hotel Poseidon [+see also:
film review
interview: Stef Lernous
film profile
]
, which was presented in a world premiere at the BIFFF, delivers a hallucinogenic film experience contemplating decay and decline.

Cineuropa: What inspired you to make the leap to film, with this project in particular?
Stef Lernous:
I’ve always been interested in outsider characters like Dave, the hero of Hotel Poseidon. They’re real film characters, because even if, in reality, these characters aren’t all that different from us, when they’re presented in film over a concentrated period of time they take on a grotesque dimension. It was a result of my fascination for this type of character, but also on account of images that I had in my mind which I could only recreate in a film, such as the end of the party scene, for example, which mainly references zombie films. These characters, scenes and situations are mixed together, as it were, in some sort of film dream.

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The film’s exploration of rot, decline and decay is also what ties it to reality… Is it a reflection upon society?
Yes, that’s one of the things that interested me. As an artist – and especially when we’re given government aid - we’re called upon to address reality. Obviously, we’re free to choose how we approach it, it doesn’t have to be a political film, but we nonetheless talk about the world. I’m not looking to be a harbinger of doom, I’m quite an optimistic person, but the world is changing; in fact, it’s nearing the end of something. You might think that, at such a stage, a system reset might be welcome. Moreover, it’s something that we felt with Covid; we might almost have believed it was happening at a certain point, given the forceful return of nature and its impact on human activities… It might seem strange, but I think there’s a bit of that in Hotel Poseidon, a bit of that hope. The action is taking place somewhere else, in a parallel universe, a dirty, degenerate world. But we clearly feel, deep down, that it’s not too dissimilar to our own. It’s a world where social contact is rare, and there’s very little empathy. In the film it’s almost funny, whereas in real life it’s obviously a whole other story.

Could you tell us more about the Hotel Poseidon itself, which is a veritable character within the film? How did you go about creating it?
I have a lot of love for The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe, where the house is a character in and of itself. And I also love houses; if I were rich, I’d collect them! This was central to my desire to make films. My set designer did an unbelievable job of building the hotel from scratch. We started with something like an exhibition hall, which was pure white, and in less than a month the team had transformed it into an incredible venue, with highly organic interiors which weren’t necessarily realistic, but they were alive. We also worked hard on sound design, which also gave the hotel its soul. In fact, when I think about it, if you watch the film without the sound design or the original soundtrack, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a comedy. Once these are added into the mix, the tension changes dramatically. The sound is also what gives the film its genre. Each room has its own background noise, which serves to heighten anxiety.

How would you describe the film’s genre? Which are the works which have inspired you?
If I really had to choose a genre, I’d choose the fantasy genre, but we actually meander between genres. I prefer to think of the film as not being confined to a specific category. Ultimately, I’d say that it’s a festival film made for an audience who are happy to be surprised. As for the works which have inspired me, they’re not necessarily the ones that people often bring up with me. People talk to me about the dreamlike – or nightmaresque – cinema of Lynch, who’s a genius, without a doubt, the full-to-bursting universe of Caro & Jeunet in Delicatessen, and that of Roy Andersson, whose characters are often particularly pasty…. They’re all wonderful references, but personally I see just as much of myself in John Waters’ films! Obviously, I’ve been inspired by my background as a film lover but, ultimately, the idea was to break away from genres. Otherwise, if there was such a thing as a “dreamlike” genre, I’d happily place Hotel Poseidon within it!

(Translated from French)

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