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Today
In conversation with Mees Peijnenburg
Title of film: A Hole In My Heart (Un Creux Dans Mon Coeur)
Director: Mees Peijnenburg
Production Company: Halal, Amsterdam
Every now and again a film comes along that you know on every level is magical - the writing, cinematography, casting, editing .... and one such film is Un Creux Dans Mon Coeur. 1.4 caught up with the young Halal Amsterdam director Mees Peijnenburg about the process of making a film where everything is real except the story itself

This film makes a little hole in my heart too, it’s so palpably real. How did it come about, was it scripted, is it autobiographical…. it’s beautifully shot, I’m assuming it’s in France…?

Yes, in the north of France, in the same village where I’ve been going on holiday for one to two weeks every year, for twelve years now. When I graduated from film school I thought I had to do something with the guys in this village, their parties, how everybody was exploring their sexual heritage, their drift, it’s crazy summer time and I met this guy. I felt everything around him was triggering ideas… we really wanted to do something with him.

The lead character?

Yeah, it’s his house, his mother. It’s his father, it’s his friends. Everything is real, except for the stories we built around the reality.

I tried many different ways to get the story across but it didn’t work out. I thought, okay shit, what would happen if he has to reflect on something super dramatic? What if it was something really close? Then all the themes I wanted to portray started to fall into place. I thought okay now make it into a ten-minute film that is super atmospheric and super spiritually approached. I was just obsessed with these guys and this energy. I think I really loved him for the look in his eyes…

That distant, isolated feeling he portrays?

All the time. But it’s funny because he’s a superstar in acting, but he’d never acted before, obviously he’d never done anything before on camera. His whole life has been in this small village, he’s never been to Paris for instance. He’s never been outside of the country – all these things that made his spirit… and he’s, I don’t know what’s a good word in English, but he’s a bad boy as well on the side.

Naughty?

Completely, not secretly. Fighting every weekend, having a super sweet girlfriend and his ex-girlfriend was taken away by his good friend. It’s like the Wild West, where suddenly people snatch each other’s girlfriends, people fight and still there’s this pureness of isolation, and he just stands there. It was super cool as well that there is this scene where his mother has her arms around him.

Was that scene scripted?

We’re a super small mini crew and we were in the house. She was standing in the house and I had this picture in mind that I saw a couple of years before. I don’t know where from, but I saw this and I saw him and everything was super vibrant.

We said, okay, could you maybe embrace him? It just happened. His little sister, who is also in the film, was standing behind the monitor looking with me and she started crying. She had never seen him allow his mother to do that to him. Then I said that she could let him be and he too said “stop, stop.” She didn’t react. Afterwards I found out that she was deaf on her right ear, didn’t notice that before but she couldn’t hear me from where I was standing.

And then the most beautiful part is he allows her to continue – my heart broke, her heart broke. Everybody was like this is the spirit of how we approach this film. This is exactly what we were looking for, for these moments where people are just intimate and honest towards everything they feel. That was a super brilliant experience of how I wanted to continue approaching stories and approaching human beings on film. That was maybe the best lesson.

When you were trying to get some structure to the film on your stays in the village what were you doing – were you filming?

No I was visiting a lot.

Observing?

And researching for the perfect group of boys. I was just travelling there with my cinematographer, neither of us spoke very good French, but we got by. We were going between village party and village party, just looking, scouting boys, asking if they wanted to join the film. We found a super cool group, then about a week before we started shooting, they all started to be frightened, started to back out, they didn’t care anymore, so we had to find a new group.

Then everything fell into place because I’d already seen this guy. He was working on his car on the side of the street and I asked him, “How do you feel like joining this film?”

He was like, “Everything’s cool. I don’t mind, I would love to join.” Then his father, his whole family joined as well.

In the beginning I had this huge film about death. I had these four chapters throughout a year. I had this huge plan and it didn’t work. It just didn’t fit. It was too big, it was less concentrated. Then I downgraded everything and I took one part of it and placed it eventually on him and then suddenly he gave me everything back I wanted. Yeah, I was super happy to find him. Thankful.

The road scenes give a sense of the dead friend and where he crashed..it also gives the film a pace…

We were searching for this metaphor of how to show the land, the surroundings and a sense of the guy who crashed.

Did the story come together in the edit?

No, before. I have never had such an easy edit. I wasn’t used to that. It was so strange for me and my editor. We’ve been working together on every film we were doing and suddenly we had the finished film. It was like, “Nah, this can’t be.” We were super happy, super enthusiastic about how it went.

I would love to have it like that always, because usually editing for me is like this big puzzling process of recreating a fail, recreating the base of it, recreating energy flows.

Also, my editor is a girl and she fell in love with him, we really wanted to show the truth of who he is.

How did you direct him?

I can speak a little French.

Were you telling him how to look?

He gave so much that made it very easy for me to give directions, instead of super philosophical or super physiological energy. He’s a natural born killer in acting I think.

He just had a presence of grief, that’s what it’s about isn’t it? It’s the grief process.

Totally, totally. He has this isolation in him and he still plays that in a group. It’s beautiful to look, because he’s the aura of everything in his own grief. He’s just there and you ask him to look to the left, for a super simple thing. But maybe the mother incident was the best example. He could feel fear really comfortably, as well, with us and he dared to just show everything he wanted to.

Why did you shoot it in black and white? Was it digital?

It was digital. We shot on a black and white camera, a Red Monochrome, because we knew if we were going to shoot in color and make it black and white afterwards we would stick to the color because those pastels are equally beautiful…

But the reason we shot it in black and white was because this film is a moment in time, and it would center on him and there’d be fewer distractions. We were going to capture this in-between situation of this energy almost – I keep repeating the word ‘energy’ but it’s the spirit of the guy at this moment – of how to react to and slowly get into life again.

It’s really metaphorical how you open up to people around you again. How life is much more beautiful with people around you, even though you don’t know how to connect with everybody all the time.

The black and white creates a different vibe around the people. In my opinion it was also perfect because they could wear what they wanted to wear, they could wear their own clothes. For instance, the girls are real, it’s his sister. She was wearing fluorescent pink outfits all the time. Fluorescent pink is quite outspoken for a color film but she could just be who she wanted to be and that helped a lot that they could feel at ease.

Credits

Writer & Director: Mees Peijnenburg
Producer – Halal Pictures: Gijs Kerbosch, Roel Oude Nijhuis, Gijs Determeijer
Line Producer – Maarten Hoedemaekers
Production Assistant – Lou-Lou van Staaveren
Cinematographer – Stephan Polman
Production Design – Maeve Human
Editor – Imre Reutelingsperger
Sound Design – Taco Drijfhout
Composer – Ella van der Woude, Juho Nurmela
Grading – Job te Veldhuis @ deGrot
Focus Puller – Nina Badoux
Title Designer – Abel van Erkel
Special thanks: Daan Meeuwig, Vasso Prins, Jonah Freud, Cijn Prins, Wim Prins