Your most recent music video for Stromae’s track Santé really captures the joy of movement and the universal language of rhythm. How did you come to settle on the three separate strands of the video, between the boat, the restaurant and the office sets?
Our objective was to show the diversity of the world within the boundaries of Kyiv. We would not be able to recreate a street in Africa for example so we moved indoors to have greater control over the environments. I liked the idea of a waitress cleaning after a big feast; that scene really encapsulated the main message of the track. The office enabled us to establish a stronger relationship between Stromae’s appearance and the main characters and it was also incredibly funny. The boat came up last, after a long search for a heavier industrial space. I wanted to shoot one scene outside and the boat brought more poetry to the mix.
To what extent did the locations in Ukraine shape your narrative?
Not that much, we knew right from the beginning what was going to happen to these workers irrespective of where they were. It was the action that happens before the dance – that stemmed from the locations. Some images are very symbolic – the waitress tasting the cake, the office worker getting a photo taken, the fish being harvested on the river and then shown on a plate in the restaurant. Those shots tell their own stories.
What were you looking for when you were casting?
The balls. The fearlessness. And the depth. Apart from some Kyiv regulars and a couple of actors we flew in, we mostly worked with actual employees and street cast. I was looking for characters who can dance ecstatically as if they were 17 years old. The track also has a very unusual syncopated beat so that made the dance even more demanding.
It must be incredibly unsettling for you having based the production in the Ukraine and now knowing that they are in this devastating situation.
What can I even say? It’s heart-breaking. That defiant spirit that Ukrainians show in this conflict was just as strong when we were there shooting. The production company, the crew, the talent, everybody pushed so hard to make this music video as good as possible. Sometimes you work with people that see your project just as another day at work but not the people I met in Ukraine.
I saw a nation in a flux, a vibrant capital that was rapidly moving away from its Soviet history, setting its own narrative. To see empty barricades on the very streets we saw bustling with life only a couple of months ago, it’s just surreal and so unfair to a nation that already suffered so much. I hope Europe will be as sympathetic with Ukraine once this is over, we owe it to them.
You’ve worked with various artists, from Never Sol to Annet X. How do you approach this kind of collaboration? Do you find the creative process changes each time? How did you work with Stromae on Santé?
It’s always such a delicate relationship. The artists bring the music they nurtured for so long and then I come in with my own vision. I always spend a couple of months developing each music video and the final work needs to represent both parties. It always comes down to personal chemistry and mutual trust. Sometimes the label is heavily involved and sometimes they let you do your own thing. Stromae’s video was little different, Mosaert (the creative force behind Stromae) approached me with a very specific concept so I could focus on actual directing work.
Your commercial, A Little More Than You’d Expect, for OnePlus, is full of fun and cheek. Were you given much creative freedom or did you work to a tight script?
I was lucky to start with a script that was already loaded with lots of little tricks. I kept adding more while finding the right tone – funny but also surreal. I was very inspired by the world of comic books – the simplicity and expressiveness of comic book frames matched the world of this commercial really well. This also translated to a pretty specific sound design taking inspiration from the world of Disney fairy tales I watched as a kid.
Your short film Bromance, an absurd story of friendship, conflict and forgiveness set to the dramatic background of Verdi’s Requiem, recently picked up a 1.4 Shortlist nomination. Where did the inspiration for the film come from?
This was originally meant to be a school document about stunt men. The world of tough men, the stunts, the testosterone, this whole Hollywood facade quickly led to its counterpart – the soft and cute side of these men, their hurt feelings. I always adored the gentle giant archetype. One thing led to another and I quickly realized that there’s a lot of potential in matching seemingly opposite things. Noir atmosphere meets soap opera, intense life and death moments follow banal birthday conundrums. It was a hilarious shoot.
Your directing style has been described as creating a “self-contained universe, a kaleidoscope from another world”. Was your upbringing full of imagination and escapism through storytelling too?
I was not brought up in an artistic family and found my way into filmmaking pretty late but I was always a wanderer and a bit of a dreamer. Hopelessly impractical, I remember endless journeys with my dad to a local hobby store. While my dad was shopping for tools and material, I walked around touching everything, always curious about the colours, shapes and textures. I couldn’t care less about what any of it was actually for.
What are you working on next?
I am currently developing a new personal project dealing with the notion of virtual reality, games and what makes us happy in this so-called post-capitalist society. Hopefully it won’t take a year to finish like every project I do!
Interview by Becca Nichols
Jara Moravec website
Hamlet – France, Belgium, Netherlands, Asia
Bistro Films – Czech Republic
Kode Media – United Kingdom
Be sweet Films – Spain