DIRECTOR'S STATEMENT by Danis TANOVIC
Just prior to the shooting of my first feature film "No Man's Land" I read the three screenplays of Krzysztof Kieslowski's and Krzysztof Piesiewicz's trilogy "Heaven, Hell, Purgatory". I was attracted by "Purgatory", a subject about the contemporary war photographer - a theme that was close to me at that time. Several years later, while preparing my new film, and I went back to "Hell" and to "Purgatory". "Heaven" was already done. This time it was "Hell" that impressed me. Why? I think because I had since got married, had children… the intimate approach to the female characters in "Hell" seduced me. Until then, my subjects dealt with the male characters involved with wars. Now I was attracted by three young women, by a story that tackles important existential questions that we have to face, more or less permanently.
Hell can be part of our every day life. We do not need to go to Afghanistan to find hell. In the countries at war I met people who were happier there than they would have been in Paris. My desire was to appropriate these elements for myself and to make my own film.
I consider my audience as an adult one. I do not want to impose "ready to go" answers. I want to put my spectator in such an emotional state that will lead him to look for his own path, for his own answers. Small details can help, and that's what I often do, but no more than that. Each sister inspired in me a different colour. For Sophie it is red, like passion, like love, like jalousie. For Anne it is green, like innocence, like opening, like spring. For Céline it is blue, like sadness, like waiting, like melancholy.
Danis Tanovic talks about HELL
BEHIND THE SCENES
At the end of 1999, while preparing his first feature film "No Man's Land" at Noé Productions in Paris, the producer Cedomir KOLAR gave Danis TANOVIC the three screenplays of "Heaven", "Hell" and "Purgatory", written by Krzysztof Piesiewicz from an idea by himself and the late Krzysztof Kieslowski. At that time Noé Productions, a Paris based independent production company, had secured the rights for the trilogy. The first part, "Heaven" was in preparation and Tom Tykwer was in pre-production. Danis read all three scripts, and was very much attracted to "Purgatory".
Several years later at the beginning of 2004, the rights for the two remaining parts of the trilogy became free again. The authors' Paris based agent, Mme Nicole Cann, also happened to be Danis' agent, and at the same time, Kolar, his former producer became his partner in their newly established production company A.S.A.P. Films in Paris. Danis read the screenplays and this time fell for "Hell". What have changed? "Purgatory" covered the actual conflicts, the war photographer, identity, and "Hell" was about family, women, their destinies. Danis left the war behind, moved to Paris, got married, and had two lovely young daughters. Basically the frame for "Hell" was set in. Even though immensely more tragic than Danis' very happy family life, the screenplay was closer to him than the "return" to the war as a subject.
As Kieslowski's idea was not to direct any of the three screenplays, but to write them for the young European directors, and as "Hell" was set in Paris and was supposed to be shot in French language, it was as a perfect screenplay for the director's second film and the first production for his newly created production entity. Once the rights were secured, everything moved quickly. Danis cam up with the perfect cast and started calling his ideal actresses. One by one, Emmanuelle Béart, Karin Viard, Marie Gillain all said yes. They were his first choices. Then came the actors - Guillaume Canet, Jacques Gamblin, Jacques Perrin. As in the most perfect of worlds, no one said no. Danis' crazy idea to approach one of the most beautiful actresses in the world, Carole Bouquet, to play a paralyzed 70 years old mother, looked like madness. But amazingly, Carole also quickly agreed. And then finally, Miki Manojlovic, a fluent French speaker and a giant among actors from the former Yugoslavia, agreed to complete the impressive ensemble.
The crew was also one of the best assembled French crews possible - Laurent DAILLND was Director of Photography, Aline BONETTO as Production Designer and Cariline DE VIVAISE as Costume Designer.
Financing the film took little more then three months. One after another, the former co-producers from "No Man's Land" came on board, this time joined by the Japanese distributor Bitters End. French television, public funds and Eurimages were also in the mix. And finally, Focus Features came on board as international sales agent. They had believed in the project from the first moment they read the screenplay.
Shooting commenced at the beginning of October in Paris after a joyful and efficient pre-production process. The multiple sets, problems linked to working in a city, dealing with major acting stars, were all overcome by the camaraderie and the extreme professionalism of all involved. Each of the lead actresses had "her" own period of shooting time and they only shot together as a group once - for a three day period. Each was the sole star for a period of time. After eight weeks of intense work, the production wrapped just a few days before Christmas.
Danis edited the film with his long time friend and collaborator, editor Francesa Calvelli in a couple of weeks. He also dedicated a lot of time to the creation of the opening credits - a major task both for him and producers, Kolar and Baschet which involved securing documentary footage from all over the world. And finally, Tanovic wrote the original score for the film with the Bosnian composer Dusko SEGVIC who flew in from Sarajevo.
Hell had its world premiere as a gala screening at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2005.
Emmanuelle Béart on Sophie
Feelings of guilt are the roots shared by these three sisters. Sophie, the eldest, is probably the one who feels the most responsible for the drama that hit the family unit. As a child, she had refused to open the bedroom door of the three sisters when her father knocked. She had turned on the music loud to drown the sound of the drama and protect her two sisters who, like herself, were traumatised by their father's violent altercation with their mother. Later, Sophie must have told herself that things might not have worked out the way they did if she had intervened.
For these children, whose father committed suicide, there is a notion of total abandonment and rejection. They are not at peace with their mother either, and have become strangers to each other. In this collapsed family, they have all tried to rebuild themselves by disregarding their past. But it does not work. They have armed themselves in a war against themselves… And they are completely disarmed.
Today, she is a woman who is deceived by her husband who seems to be reconciled to their marriage while leading a double life with another woman. Gradually and instinctively, Sophie lifts the curtain and discovers the lies. The repercussion of this betrayal is particularly violent for Sophie because she comes up against the feeling of having been deserted already experienced during her childhood. She is in such a state of despair that she has lost all desire to live, she no longer gets up in the morning, she does not look after herself, and she can no longer take care of her children. All this is extremely human, it is physical and she feels paralysed. And there is also the fear of hurting her children, the fear of reproducing the old scenario. Paradoxically enough, in such moments when we can barely stand up, it is our children who save us. Everyone knows this. And it is Sophie's children who will give her a new lease of life and who will participate in her rebirth. All this may not necessarily be in the film, but it was certainly in my mind.
To reach down to the very depths of the guilt felt by Sophie, it was not a question of exhibiting a physical destruction but to render this state of suffering, which erases all forms of desire in a face, in an expression. This is much more devastating. Take, for example, the scene in which Sophie watches a bee in the process of drowning in a glass. I have an extremely vivid memory of that moment, lying on the sofa, of wanting to express this notion of dangerous absence. The bee decided to save itself and found the strength to climb up a straw, while the human being watching it had no will to fight.
In her state of disarray, she becomes provocative, almost to the point of being indecent. After a shower, for instance, she presses her wet body against her husband who is asleep. It is terribly disturbing! The more she provokes Pierre, the more she is humiliated. Twenty times, she hits against the door of "It's over", thrown at her by Pierre, who shuts her out as if pulling down metal shutters between them. But she needs to return over and over again.
Sophie is a character that I can understand, I can be on the same wavelength. She does not resemble me, she does not lead my life, but she is one of those endearing women. Because Sophie is in fact like any ordinary man or woman who, after waiting all night long, asks the partner who has finally returned, "Where were you, who were you with?" There is nothing worse than trying to imagine this. She wants to know all about this other person, her rival. "What does she have that I don't? What is her face like, her body, her smell?" I understand the strangeness of this woman when she goes as far as to approach Pierre's mistress to smell her. It is so very true. What nerve to film this scene! Danis knows perfectly well what a woman feels at such a moment.
By choosing Jacques Gamblin to play the role of Pierre, the man who betrays, it was possible to avoid the stereotype image of the seductive male. The strange blend of male and female in this handsome and good actor adds a touch of fragility to the character, and stops us from considering him as a bastard. Life is not so simple. It is not because Sophie is married to a bastard that her life is painful but because her own history is terrible, her childhood, her relationship with her femininity, her relationship with men.
I have rarely met a film director like Danis Tanovic, who is capable of giving his actors and actresses so much room for imagination. He would say to me, "I'm not a woman, you know better than me". Yet under his virile appearance, Danis conceals a profound feminine and childlike sensitivity, he has a fine sense of discernment, with all its nuances, discords and variations. Danis is very organic, and so am I. I said to myself, "I think he is as much an animal as I am". He is full of wonder at the work of his actors while at the same time being curious of what one feels like saying through one's character. I liked his way of constantly asking me, "Is it all right? Do you think you can go as far as that?" and I would answer, "I don't know but I am ready."
As we had separate shooting phases, Danis had the intelligence to make each actress think she was "the" woman of the film. Before each shooting session, he would instil in us a totally new desire, as if the filming was only just starting. We had the delicious and unique sensation of starting a new film every time.
Karin Viard on Celine
I had the opportunity to meet Danis Tanovic at the Cannes Film Festival, where we were both members of the jury. This young man has every talent. Not only does he have a divine talent as a musician but he also has an acute instinct for poetry and literature, and he makes films with great style, that is to say, magnificently, forcefully and with simplicity. And added to all this are his elegance and his generosity in refraining from imposing his apprehensions and anxiety. He leaves others the freedom of being what they are. I loved his "No Man's Land" which I saw over and over again, and I wanted to respond to his desire when he offered me the script of "Hell". He let me decide which role to play among the three sisters, and I chose that of Céline. She appealed to me very much.
I was immediately attracted to the tragic dimension of this character. I understand the "sacrificed" very well! The news columns are full of stories about daughters or sons with no right to their own existence beyond that of their parents. There is a mythological dimension to their sacrifice. I thought it would be fascinating to delve into that area, to become close to someone who has put his or her life 'on hold'. Céline was so far away from me that at first I had some difficulty in finding the right tone. At the same time, the work of approaching the character was exhilarating. Filming with Danis Tanovic is like diving into icy water. The water is cold, admittedly, but it is so pleasant afterwards, you feel warm. And you feel so very much alive, it sets your blood racing!
Céline runs away from her own life, all she does is to deny herself in order to look after her mother. To compensate … Céline is dying of solitude, one can presume that she has never been touched by a man, but she leads this life without being sour or bitter. She gets used to the fact that there are a number of things she will never have. I liked the idea of not turning her into a kind of nun but, rather, into a woman bearing the mystery of not existing. Her meeting with Sébastien wakes her up from a long lethargy. To reach out to her, Sébastien selects a poem by Mesa Selimovic. "In life, in patience, my heart watches, my heart fades away … The shadow follows the one I used to be … I got lost while searching. I dream of life and live in a dream. I conceal my heart, I accuse my heart." At that moment, Sébastien speaks to her in such an intimate manner that she can allow herself this love affair.
Danis made us act this intimate scene as early as the second day of shooting. With Guillaume Canet, we were not too sure of our bearings, we were still groping a little. But Danis deliberately took advantage of our lack of confidence, because this insecurity was exactly in keeping with the situation of our characters at that particular moment.
Danis always defused the tension that prevailed during the more difficult scenes with humour, allowing us to indulge in fits of laughter between the shooting sessions. This method is wonderful. Every time I started again as if new, and all my imagination and liberty could flow freely once more.
The relationship between Céline and her mother is based on an interaction between ambiguous and ambivalent feelings. Their relationship is centred on a kind of madness. And yet neither of them can escape from this monstrous captivity that binds them together. Céline, who prefers to give up her own life in order to look after her mother, is perhaps the only sister out of the three who should not be looked upon as a Medea. I also think Céline wants to be the guardian of her father's image. Letting go of her mother would be like letting the father die forever. She is both the father and the mother, she is the couple, the family, and she is the one who must remain.
And as her meeting with Sébastian occurs at the appropriate moment, Céline changes. When she asks her sister Sophie, "Have you never thought that a curse hovers over you like something that prevents you from moving forward?" Céline becomes aware that she must now confront this curse, she is its guarantor. She has the poison, it is true, but she also knows that she has the antidote. From this viewpoint, the film conveys a degree of optimism because the three sisters are moving in a positive direction.
For Danis Tanovic, a minimum of words gives meaning to what must be said. The extraordinary vitality of "No Man's Land" can also be found in "Hell". Danis Tanovic resembles his films, inside him he has something tragic, broken, and at the same time, he is very much alive, he is full of energy and fun.
Marie Gillain on Anne
I was impressed by having in my hands a script inspired by a project of Kieslowski, a film-maker I deeply admire. The other pleasant surprise was that this project would be accomplished by Danis Tanovic because his film "No Man's Land" had moved me by its tone, which was harsh, radical and ironic. I was curious to see how these worlds would come together, how Tanovic, who had treated the absurdity of war so boldly and intensely, would plunge into the intimacy of love. My first encounter with Tanovic was not really "Kieslowskian". I saw before me some kind of a Bosnian bear with eyes that were darker than black riveted on me like a kalishnikovs! Perfectly understandable since I had just given birth to a baby and looked like a small whale washed up in a café in Saint Germain des Près. We drank two enormous beers, and he started to tell me about Belgium and about woodcutters, because Danis cut wood when he arrived there, and I had spent my childhood in that country. In fact, we first got to know each other before discussing Kieslowski! And we learned to trust each other.
The character of Anne attracted me because of her passionate spirit and despair. As soon as she is in the presence of a man she loves, her blood races through her veins. And as soon as he leaves her, she languishes and dies. She is permanently in a feverish state, with a determination that is almost obsessive. Her love for Frédéric, her teacher, is also her way of transferring the image of her father. This love is all the more painful in that she looks upon her father as a monster who has deserted her. Anne is therefore lost between two loves, and projects all her childhood fears onto this man presently in her life. She fights in vain to understand why he has left her but it is precisely because he has deserted her that she continues to love him.
Anne may appear to be an egoist in her reactions to the suffering of others and in the way she behaves sometimes. She will betray her only friend because of her love for this man and she will destroy her family for the sake of recognition. But I think her need to be loved and recognised is so strong and painful that she cannot face it or understand it. She loves this man but she also loves her family and the place she occupies within it. When Frédéric dies, she feels as if she has been orphaned twice.
To me, Anne is like a little soldier trying to save his skin. She has experienced the terrible absence of a father. Céline stays with her mother, Sophie in the place where the trauma occurred, while Anne moves away to avoid sinking, but she sinks anyway.
In her relationship with Frédéric, there is also a genuine intellectual complicity and an admiration for the intelligence of this man. In the presentation she does on Medea, the choice of subject is not innocent. She talks intrinsically when she says, "Euripides shows us that if the pressure suffered by women is maintained, an explosion becomes inevitable and, as in the case of Medea, the children end up in pieces." And then she adds, "But tragedy is no longer possible nowadays." She emphasises the vulnerability of human beings whose suffering is caused by a combination of human and divine interventions.
It is true that life is made up of choices and feelings that are sometimes beyond us, and without intending to make us feel guilty of our acts, I find the idea of a divine dimension to our life rather comforting.
For me, the shooting of this film was a real gift from the cinema and an important encounter with a film director. I experienced all the feelings of making a film for the first time. The sense of exhilaration, the joy of waking up in the morning for a filming session, the alchemy of a group that produces an incredible energy to move forward … and the immense and childish pleasure of being directed by Danis because, obviously, it is thanks to him that we were able to smile during all those weeks.
Carole Bouquet on The Mother