Interview: “There’s no clan I belong to”

"I wanted to become a farmer. My idea was absurd", Govinda Van Maele describes the lengths he went to to fit in Mike Zenari

"I wanted to become a farmer. My idea was absurd", Govinda Van Maele describes the lengths he went to to fit in Mike Zenari

Govinda Van Maele’s first feature, “Gutland”, is a gripping film noir about a German drifter who stumbles into a rural Luxembourg village. Set in the southern and central parts of rural Luxembourg, known as the “gutland”, it explores the need for and cost of acceptance.

Jess Bauldry: How did the seed of the idea for “Gutland” come to you?

Govinda Van Maele: It’s something that developed over a long period of time. Gilles Chanial and I were writing for three years from the first written words to the final script.

The initial ideas come from so many different points. There’s a seed in every film you make before. It’s been like that with all my other films. I end a short film and the next film is linked to it in some obscure way. Something that’s not tied up, you continue that strand in the next. Here, there’s a connection to my previous films. It took about a year to realise that with the end of my last short film, which is about two teenagers who rob a gas station, kill someone, then flee in a car, have an accident and walk through a field. “Gutland” starts with a guy who walks through the forest after having an accident having robbed a casino. I realised a year after.

People say that you’ve one theme and every film you make is around that one theme. You only realise it after 3 or 5 films what that theme is.

JB: What’s that theme for you?

GVM: I don’t know what it would be for me. Someone told me my films are about community. Community has some meaning in my life or the lack of community, in some sense, has meaning because I don’t have a lot of family. Both my parents don’t really know their family. I didn’t grow up with close connections to uncles and aunts. They were far away or from families where there weren’t close connections there. There’s no clan I belong to. I’ve my parents and brothers. I don’t really know after who to take culturally, either. My father is from a wealthier Belgian family, my mother from a lower-middle class Asian background. Two opposing backgrounds. I’m neither western nor European. I’m not Luxembourgish, I’m also not anything else.

JB: You come from a rural village not dissimilar to the one in the film. Tell us about that.

GVM: I grew up in a village where people in villages have long lineage going back generations. If a new family comes into a community where everyone is linked, I think I felt strongly the desire to belong as a child. I went to ridiculous lengths. I wasn’t christened when I was born so I asked my parents if they could christen me when I was 7. Then I did communion. It was all on my own strength--my parents weren’t really religious. I wanted to be part of the brass band and the fire brigade. I wanted to become a farmer. My idea was absurd. As a kid I somehow found out that the only way to become a farmer was to marry a girl who didn’t have any brothers. Eventually that faded away once I became older. I lost interest in farming when I was 10.

JB: Has anyone from the countryside who has seen the film taken issue with the way country folk are depicted in “Gutland”?

GVM: Until now, no one has had a problem with it. The first Luxembourgers who saw the film were happy because they saw it outside of Luxembourg and were very happy to see their country on the screen because they probably missed it. I know some people will have a problem with it. You can’t please everyone.

JB: I recognised some of the landscapes in the film from rural Luxembourg. Where was “Gutland” shot and when?

GVM: We shot over 37 days over a period spanning August 2016 to January 2017 in several blocks because we wanted to capture the changes in the seasons. The farm where Jens works was close to the lake. Everything else was shot near Mersch or near Echternach in several villages. We constructed a village out of several different ones. Most were in the gutland area. No-one pointed it out yet but it’s something they could criticise that the characters are swimming in the Lac de la Haut Sûre, which is not in the gutland.

JB: What for you were the highlights of making this film?

GVM: We were lucky with the weather. Shooting anything in Luxembourg is always a headache because of the weather. We were shooting in the middle of August. It was supposed to be a really sunny day. The whole week was supposed to in this “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”-like heat--the long days where people go crazy in the heat. In one scene there was no way we could shoot it with this weather. The whole week there was only one afternoon we had really good sun. Like clockwork the sun came out, we had 3-4 hours of sun to shoot it and then it started raining again, as always. Accidents that turn out to be lucky accidents. These are the best memories.

“Gutland” is out in Luxembourg cinemas with English and French subtitles for one week from 2 May. Click here to find out more.