Carice van Houten and Halina Reijn • Creators of Red Light
“The empty expressions on their faces, the women cleaning the pole with a spray: there’s nothing sexy about it”
- We caught up with Carice van Houten and Halina Reijn, creators of and actresses in the Belgian-Dutch series Red Light, screened at Canneseries
The Belgian-Dutch television series Red Light, created by Carice van Houten and Halina Reijn, tells the stories of three women from different walks of life. Their lives intertwine as the events following a mysterious missing-persons case in the red-light districts of Amsterdam and Antwerp start to unfold, shining a light on the world of human trafficking and prostitution. Van Houten and Reijn both act in the series as well. The first two episodes premiered at Canneseries, as part of the main competition. The Dutch premiere took place recently at the Nederlands Film Festival, and the series won two Golden Calves, for Best Television Series and Best Actor, for Reijn. It was produced by Eyeworks Belgium and Hollands Licht (Netherlands) in co-production with broadcasters BNNVARA and VTM, and in collaboration with Man Up Film. We talked to Van Houten and Reijn about the ideas behind Red Light and their vision as creators.
Cineuropa: How does the theme of the series match up with your vision as creators?
Carice van Houten: Halina and I started our production company Man Up because we didn’t want to be circus monkeys any more, we told each other jokingly. Instead, we wanted to tell relevant stories from a woman's perspective. Amsterdam’s red-light district is a great arena to talk about themes such as suppression and women’s sexuality. My character of Silvia, for example, a prostitute, has a very unhealthy, codependent relationship, but there is also real love. We don’t really know if she’s a victim or an accomplice. We want to show a 360-degree view of the character, and the same goes for Halina’s character, Esther, and Maaike Neuville’s character, Evi. We knew all along that it wasn’t about the red-light district, but we wanted to use it to tell a story about women and question subjects that are often shrouded in shame.
How was it to explore such a complex arena as the red-light district?
Halina Reijn: I have been obsessed with the red-light district since my childhood. It was often seen as a symbol of progression, the idea of the “Happy Hooker”, but then again, my parents were hippies. Later, I learned from my uncle, who is a public prosecutor, about the human-trafficking aspect. It is all so absurd. It’s like visiting a theme park: there are families strolling through the district. And it’s not as if those women are all nymphomaniacs, but it’s also not as if they’re all forced to be there. It’s a grey and ambiguous world that’s not as clear-cut as a Disney fairy tale. I started to think about my own relationship with men, money and power, and all those experiences found their way into the series.
What sort of experiences were they?
CvH: It reflects our own process in moving from circus monkey to producer. I remember some man telling us ladies to cover our ears because now he would start to talk about finances. It’s shocking. In general, we had the feeling that we were waking up. We made Instinct [+see also:
interview: Halina Reijn
film profile] fairly shortly after #MeToo and decided not to objectify the female body any more, for example. There, we had the dogma of not showing any nudity, while in Red Light it’s a bit more difficult due to the subject, but still. A strip club is not something glamorous; we wanted to show a back door, something real. I remember one day on set when we arrived at the strip club, and there were all these women with size 34 – it looked so glamorous. We had to fight as producers to make it more realistic again. The sometimes empty expressions on their faces, the women cleaning the pole with a spray: there’s nothing sexy about it. In the end, this whole show is about women liberating themselves. And we felt the same way during the process of creating it.
What’s next for the both of you?
HR: We just bought the rights to the book The Sisters of Auschwitz by Roxanne van Iperen. It’s a period piece about two Jewish sisters who join the resistance during the war. I am very happy to be working on these exciting stories with my best friend. It’s important to be able to laugh during the whole process of making something like this. And we’ve come a long way. The fact that Red Light has been selected for the Canneseries competition felt like a real acknowledgement.
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