Violet: interview with director Bas Devos, actor Cesar de Sutter and Brent MinneBerlin Film Festival 2014
We spoke with director Bas Devos, Cesar de Sutter who plays Jesse, and Brent Minne, one of the BMX riders in the film.
Why did you choose the title Violet?
Bas Devos: The first reason is that when people say “violet”, I always hear “violent” – which I like, because the film begins with a violent event. The second reason is a song Violet by Deafheaven, an American band – it plays in the movie. Violet is also the last colour of the colour spectrum, it is literally the border between the seen and unseen – the next colour is ultraviolet, and we cannot see that anymore. My film is also about things we try to see but can only sense. I did not want the title to narrow down the meaning too much.
How did the idea of this film come about?
BD: I am especially attracted to silent people, people who spend time alone and therefore are silent. And I knew it was going to be about a boy, someone whose emotions you can’t read very easily. Cesar, the main actor, has a natural shyness and quietness about him – a cleaver guy, but keeps things at a distance.
How did you cast your main actors?
Cesar de Sutter: I did a film with Bas when I was eight. Years later he came to me and asked to audition.
BD: I wasn’t sure that Cesar was going to be Jesse, but I remembered from my earlier short he had something special about him. When I saw him again, I realised this is definitely my guy. Brent Minne, one of the BMX crew, came to an open audition for skaters and BMX riders. I spent quite some time around different skate parks, first of all to refresh my own memories. I used to skate when I was young – the lousiest skateboarder ever. I met Brent there and invited him to an open audition – he came in and was very relaxed and natural, and that’s unusual. Usually skateboarders play it up really cool, and are not comfortable being someone apart from themselves. Most guys invited said they’d show up at the audition and in the end didn’t.
Question to the cast: is your life similar to the one onscreen?
Brent Minne: I am a BMX rider, I know all the people in the movie. For me it’s real.
CDS: Not for me – I did not know that culture. I play guitar though.
How much was the film scripted?
BD: I had a script, and we didn’t stray far from it. Most scenes had no dialogue – it was relatively clear what had to happen. We had no scripts on set, we just knew the scenes to shoot for the day and improvised. Basically, I let the guys do whatever they wanted during the rehearsal then picked out the things I liked, other things I would take out to make it purer and purer. We had to do most retakes for technical reasons, like the single-take where BMXers ride the street and come back. That was a technical nightmare for the focus puller. 70% of the film is shot on 50mm lens with 0.9 diaphragm completely open. In total, we took 22 days to shoot. That would be quite a rush for a normal film. But I never felt pushed or rushed because we had quite a slow working tempo.
Talking about lenses – Violet has a 4:3 ratio and exceptional cinematography. What was it shot on?
BD: I had my mind made up on the ratio from the very start. It’s because we’re so used to the Cinemascope nowadays that a different ratio immediately prompts a different way of looking. It’s a photographic format. Our approach to cinematography was more photographic than cinematographic – especially in search of the light and the way we used lenses. Most parts we shot on Arri Alexa, another ten minutes – the whole ending sequence – was shot on 65mm. We found an old camera with eight perforations – that’s like the Hasselblad format within 24 frames a second, it gives you a very strange focal depth.
How much was the look of the film shaped in post-production?
BD: It’s mostly in-camera effects. We had to clean up the 65mm though, because the film stock was quite dirty. In colour grading, we decided to go for a really contrasted look. Me and Nicolas [Nicolas Karakatsanis – cinematographer] both don’t really like the washed-out grayish look of Alexa that has become so popular now, so we went for bright colours.
Last question – any upcoming projects down your sleeve?
BD: I am working on a script about an old man who has to move out of his apartment where he has lived for thirty years, and has to live in the 21st century with its vivid visual and urban culture. . It is an investigation of physical limitations as one gets older and I am interested in contracting the slowness of this man with everything constantly moving at the speed of light.