in the Category: art
Chipped nails, laddered tights, at 16 years old Cleo is brutally evicted from childhood after surviving a terrible car accident that cost her parents their lives. Eva Cools’ first feature film is a tale about growing up, grief, music, human fallibility and resilience. It also reveals the obscure epic Russian origins of the song 'All By Myself'. We talked to Eva Cools about the origins of Cleo and on how she uses cinema as a medium to confront people with themselves.
Interview by Eléonore Kenis
Photos shot in Brussels by Pauline Colleu
At the very core of Cleo, there’s a deadly car accident, a hit-and-run, and a reflection on the consequences of a decision a person takes for the sake of their own survival rather than taking their responsibilities towards their fellow humans.
It’s an intricate matter where the psychological consequences unfold at different levels through time. I wanted to show not only the side of the victim, but to question how this kind of event affects all parties involved. While I was writing the screenplay, I met with several people who had caused an accident and didn’t come forward. Those people had made a one-fraction-of-a-second choice, an admittedly bad one, based on a short term survival perspective. But it was very clear that in the long run that choice would reveal itself to be devastating and was eating them inside out.
Music punctuates the film not only as a formal apparatus but as an essential cogwheel of the scenario. How did it find its place in your writing process?
This came to me very naturally and spontaneously. I’ve been playing piano since I was very young and my brother is a classical pianist, which gave me a glance of the world of classical music. In the film, music takes up a crucial place in the way Cleo overcomes the loss of her parents. It’s a catalyst. First and foremost, her connection to classical music tells something about human resilience, about the way even in the most difficult times people find things to hold onto and to lose themselves in to find their way back into life. It was also a pretext to illustrate the way nowadays young people are able to carefreely meander between musical styles. Cleo’s not stuck in one genre: she likes techno and Coely, she likes to dance her brains out to Die Antwoord with her best friend as well as playing classical music.
Not just any classical music though, Cleo thinks ‘Satie is for pussies’. She likes the fiery Rachmaninoff who defined himself as ‘the last romantic composer’.
It must be some kind of subconscious thing, the Rachmaninoff’s Prelude she is playing has been floating at the back of my head for years because my brother used to play it. Rachmaninoff’s music, and this Prelude in particular, conveys raw emotions. It displays a kind of honesty, a bluntness and an obvious sense of fragility at the same time. Traits that happen to be defining of Cleo’s personality. I felt that if I was going to use one piece in my movie, it had to be this one.
What’s the purpose of cinema?
As a young director, I use cinema as a medium to confront people with themselves. I want to make stories that shake the audience. I want to make the spectators feel that they’re a slightly different person as they walk out of the movie theater than they were when they walked in. Film can work like a convex mirror, offering a reflection with a larger perspective. Cleo doesn’t have a happy ending: there is no hero, the story line is driven by psychology. But it’s not always an easy stand to take. During the making of the film, I got criticism for supposedly showing some characters ‘in too good a light’. But I feel that it is my duty as a director to defend all my characters and then leave it to the audience to make up their own mind.
Film Fest Gent presents Cleo
18 Oct - Kinepolis, Ghent
Free for members
release 27 Nov (Lumière)
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