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 In the Mud

So this is me. It's raining and the flood is imminent. This was me and it will be until the end. A strange need to make things more difficult than they actually are. Anyone that has chosen to get involved in the art of mass manipulation will know that form and content have to be symbiotic. It was my intention to make a chamber piece driven by a visual current. A film where the physical landscape is mirrored in the psychological and where claustrophobia, rot and creeping despair were the most dramatic elements. So I didn't have a choice, I had to go into the river.

But there are other reasons. Most would call it madness to make a film in the middle of the jungle, but to me it was a necessity. I believed the difficulties would present opportunities. Moments that you can't control should by their nature give an intensity that you won't achieve by manipulation. The making of a film always becomes its own story but the drama is heightened if you choose to shoot in an inhospitable location. I hoped the jungle would reveal additional stories to mine, to move along in parallel and intertwine. The origins of my stories could then be erased, the tracks covered and the complexity would grow.

Why can't I make a film where I live? Some would say Hampstead Heath (England) is something of a jungle. What about Copenhagen, where I was born, or France where I learnt to love films? Stories exist everywhere, but they've never revealed themselves in the places where I've lived my life. This is a rather sad statement for someone who believes that substance needs a personal perspective to rise above mediocrity. Most of the time, the story does come from my own mental wilderness, I suspect that the physical alienation is a filter that my subconscious creates to prevent complete self-exposure.

Why such a narcissistic attitude to film making? Who on earth would want to see my navel-gazing and probably pretentious debris on film? These humiliating and relevant questions come to me every day. In response, I can only say that I see myself as some kind of gardener whose duty is to weed out my personal wilderness. The task can seem insurmountable, but hopefully the final result will be an enjoyable garden. Not the ornamental French park that, when it comes down to it, offers a controlled and rigid perspective of the world. It's more the English garden that appeals to me, a piece of idealised nature laid out with casual order.

To understand if this ambition has worked out, you need to be able to see your own film with a genuine empathy. I'm not sure this is possible; you're too involved in the material to feel it, and have to rely on your intelligence to understand it. On rare occasions, there'll be a screening of my film which almost gives me the illusion of being any other cinema-goer. It's like an out of body experience, in which I wrongly believe that I can see everything clearly. A transcendental moment of the worst kind, for who is this person with the sadistic need to invent these cruel obstructions and expose these characters to such a ruthless treatment? I'd have to take some of the blame since I'm the one claiming the rights to these stories, but like most criminals I have a hard time owning up. It's because these ideas never grew in my imagination. They were sent to me from a big void where eruptive thoughts flow in volcanic lava. Most arrived with no warning and without any coherent connection.

The truth is always contradictory, so I hope these words seem clear as mud. But truth or not, mud is what you can expect from me. The deeper I dig into the ditches of my imagination, the less I can relate the product to myself. It's the armour of denial that saves your life again. We all need a lullaby to fall asleep, the theme of my favourite is about coming out of the river and leaving the jungle behind. The consciousness that I took anything with me out of the wilderness soothes my soul. I rarely ask myself exactly what it was I took from the jungle. Never mind... the next one will probably be a comedy.

 

Janet McTeer (Songcatcher, Tumbleweeds) gives a terrific performance as the title character in this exotic drama set in 1924. Sarah (McTeer) and her younger fiancé Hamish (JJ Field) travel to an ivory trading post nestled deep in the Malaysian jungle to escape the depression of post-war Europe. The influence of the couple's high hopes—and obvious love for one another—on the small, strained group of inhabitants unleashes greed, murder and madness. Co-starring Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker. Directed and co-written by Kristian Levring (The King is Alive)