Director Remy van Heugten delves into his gritty Limburg-set drama, Gluckauf, with Melissa Legarda at the World Premieres Film Festival
Remy van Heugten is a Dutch film director known for the award-winning independent film, Gluckauf (or Son of Mine), which had its world premiere at Rotterdam International Film Festival, and recently had its Asia premiere at the World Premieres Film Festival Philippines. Van Heugten attended the Film College in Genk (Belgium) and the Dutch Film and Television Academy in Amsterdam. His graduation film Over Rozen (About Roses) was awarded several prizes, including a nomination for the Student Academy Awards (Oscars) in 2005.
Here, Remy bears his soul to SineScreen as he discusses his artistic intentions for Gluckauf and shares just how personal to him the film’s narrative actually is.
Hello, Remy. Could you give our readers a general synopsis of Gluckauf?
Certainly. Gluckauf is a story about inevitability and love. I’ve always wished to discuss the social and psychological state of my province, Limburg. Limburg is hilly and green, so it’s seen as the perfect holiday place for many. But the immense economic and social problems, partly caused by the disappeared mining industry in the cities, are quite unknown. I wanted to show the struggle of the people living there. In 2008 I met scriptwriter Gustaaf Peek and together we visited several places in Limburg where these stories happened. During these trips I talked and he listened. In 2010 he started writing the script in close contact with me. At the end of 2013 we went into production.
How has growing up in Limburg influenced you?
Growing up in a city where there are huge socioeconomic problems influenced me greatly. Many friends of mine struggled to find work or turned to drug use. These experiences formed who I. Fortunately my parents always encouraged me to develop myself. In a way filmmaking turned out to be my escape.
The film was inspired on true stories that happened to me or around me in my youth – especially the complicated relationship of a close friend of mine with his father, which left an enormous impression on me. His father was a small time criminal and step by step he dragged my friend into his world.
Son of Mine reveals a very dark side of life in Limburg, and as a viewer, there are some very tough scenes to watch. What particular aspect did you find hardest to film?
For me one of the most difficult things in the making was to find the right balance in sympathy between the two main characters; to slowly but precisely shift sympathy from one to the other. The scenes marking these transitions particularly needed a lot of extra attention. Also, finding a right visual balance in the cinematography between the ‘dark side’ as you mention, and the beautiful side of the region, were elements we worked on for a long time.
I find that the film has a very gritty, realist, and dark urban aesthetic. What stylistic influences did you have, if any?
Thank you. To be honest I never really used work from other directors to create the style of this movie. Together with D.O.P. Mark van Aller and production designer Minka Mooren we investigated the story from all sides to create a style and way of shooting.
I like to shoot where the actors and I find the mise-en-scene together. The D.O.P. then gets quite a lot of freedom, so he can behave like another character in the room – someone who shouldn’t behave as someone who knows what’s about to happen.
Another important element for keeping the realism was in the casting. These actors needed great emotional connection to this story. It took time to find the right actors but this starting point became one of the key decisions of the film. Also, I grew up in Limburg, and I know it inside out, which really helped me find authentic locations.
For you, what makes a good film?
Oeff. Very difficult! I think that’s different for everyone. But for me: a film that surprises me, takes me to worlds I’m unfamiliar with, with characters that might be hard to understand, but who still move me.