interview

Jaco Van Dormael about Cold Blood: "Paradoxically, it is often more magical when you actually show the tricks you are using"

© Julien Lambert

The previous work from Michèle Anne De Mey and Jaco Van Dormael, Kiss & Cry, was performed all over the world, no fewer than 260 times in nine different countries. Will the same formula – dancing fingers filmed in evocative miniature sets – guarantee the success of their new work, Cold Blood?

The Brussels film-maker Jaco Van Dormael will unveil his very own star on the Walk of Fame at the Ostend Film Festival on 12 September. Thats in recognition of international award-winning films such as Toto le héros, Le huitième jour, and Le tout Nouveau Testament, but what Van Dormael has been up to in the theatre in recent years is also well worth checking out. At the KVS, where the director is now an artist in residence, he and his partner, Michèle Anne De Mey (once of Rosas, now artistic director at Charleroi Danses), open the season with Cold Blood, which once again offers a blend of nano-dance, full-length film, and theatre.

Can you tell us where the idea for this hybrid form came from?

Jaco Van Dormael: It was during a kind of workshop in Les Halles in 2003, in which Michèle Anne and I linked up with the Transquinquennal theatre company. Out of that mix of dance, theatre, and cinema, there emerged what would later become the opening dance for two hands from Kiss & Cry. When Daniel Cordova of Le Manège Mons asked me later to direct something there, I showed him that little bit of film and told him I thought it had potential. I had just put the difficult process of filming Mr. Nobody behind me and I wanted to do something lighter. Michèle Anne and I then took up the challenge: she, of dancing with her hands and I, of making a full-length film on the kitchen table. It also gave us an opportunity to work together for once instead of each of us being on tour or on location.

Just when did the two of you realise that you were really onto something?

Van Dormael: We had no idea. Even after the premiere, we still didn’t know what to make of it. It’s only after that that it started to take off. But when something works, you usually don’t know why straight away. In any case, we really enjoy doing the shows, even though its anything but easy. 

Spending an hour and twenty minutes each time looking for the right framing and focus is no laughing matter. Usually, nobody sees the work of the cameraman and his assistants, so when youre suddenly there in front of 800 people at a premiere, your hands do start trembling. The cameraman and the people who do the sets and the lighting are really dancers too and part of the choreography.

Is it the combination of traditional craftsmanship and virtuosity that wows the audience so much?

Van Dormael: Yes. There is an affinity with arte povera. Paradoxically, it is often more magical when you actually show the tricks you are using. One way or another, the audience is prepared to believe in it more when it gets to see everything thats going on behind the scenes than when something is presented to it as “real”. I remembered that from when I was shooting Le tout Nouveau Testament. For shots that were going to be too expensive – like those at the camp site in Spain – the set designer [who is also involved in the productions for the theatre - MB] and I went looking for alternatives. For example, we just suggested that camp site with some little Matchbox cars and a caption. So that costs €50.

What was the greatest challenge in making Cold Blood?

Van Dormael: Not to do the same thing as in Kiss & Cry. But that wasn’t such a problem, as we actually had lots of ideas. During our long tour, we kept on coming up with things that we hadn’t tried out yet.

One difference with Kiss & Cry is that, in that work, you could clearly see that we had cobbled everything together with Playmobil and cardboard. Now, we create more of an illusion of reality. We clearly film the forest in an aquarium, with semi-transparent mirrors that reflect a single image an infinite number of times, but the result is actually a successful illusion of a forest with a vast surface area. The aeroplane is a scale model, the sun is a spotlight, but the way the camera captures it brings everything close to reality. The cameras are a bit more sensitive too and the sets are lit with LED lighting.

In Kiss & Cry, moreover, the stage was more of a bazaar filled with all sorts of bits and pieces. This time, the sets are brought on and off. We play in a less head-on way and more with perspectives and movement. The sets join in the dance.

It’s not a sequel or a prequel?

Van Dormael: No. We did write the screenplay with Thomas Gunzig again – someone we always have a lot of fun with. We always spend a lot of time laughing, and even when that doesn’t lead straight away to a concrete result, it produces something in the long term. We wanted to do something that you can only do on a theatre stage. The whole thing is conceived as a collective hypnosis. The audience is hypnotised and then, without any danger, dies eight times in succession. Each time, it returns from the dead and what it remembers then is not the award of a doctorate or a football championship, but apparently unimportant things like the scent of a woman’s neck.

Cold Blood also marks your arrival as a new face at the KVS.

Van Dormael: I’m really looking forward to that. There is something Belgian that is gradually dying out and that I really love, which is still cherished by the KVS. The KVS also represents a Brussels in which everyone is at home. You don’t have to show any papers to be allowed to join in. The KVS has co-produced Cold Blood, so we now alternate the Dutch-language and French-language versions. Valentijn Dhaenens has recorded the Dutch version, but I do narrate the beginning. I’m still studying that. [Laughs]

And what’s more, at the Ostend Film Festival you’re getting a star on the Walk of Fame.
Van Dormael:
A star on the spot where I used to race around on the cuistax [a seaside pedal vehicle]... Splendid!

Cold Blood, 16 > 24/9 & 8 > 17/3, KVS_BOL

 

WHAT WOULD JACO DO?

Black Clouds
Black Clouds is a new work by Fabrice Murgia, the new Director of the Théâtre National, in which he looks at the dark sides of globalisation and the Internet. 

Black Clouds, 24/10, 20.15 (Festival des Libertés) & 17 > 24/2, Théâtre National

System_D
“System_D is a festival to which up-and-coming Brussels film talent can (still) submit short films, fiction, or documentaries. I’m a patron of the festival and of course I’m looking forward eagerly to see what unexpected talent we’ll be able to discover at it.”

System_D, 16 > 18/12, KVS

 

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