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Part of the Dutch entry for UNICA 2002 this film by Emile de Gruijter, André van der Hout, Aria Mulder and Vladimir Murtin received an IAC International Medallion, Best Story Trophy, A Special Award for Direction, The Wallace Heaton Cup for Photography and £100 from Fuji at the Movie 2001 Festival.
Dave Watterson talked to Vladimir Murtin: British audiences know your work with Reg Lancaster and Jan Schoonen, when as Triad Films you made movies such as Tandem and Olympia. This film is by four people, collectively known as Quadriga. Why do you prefer to work in a group?
Vladimir Murtin: I find that to make story films - if you want to do them well - you shouldn't begin alone.
As for this group: in 1999 we asked certain people whom we knew to be seriously interested in movie making to meet at a cafe. We created a new group which discusses the creative aspects of film making rather than equipment as clubs usually do. Sometimes we watch a film and do analysis. Sometimes we share script ideas and the members will make suggestions on how to improve it - in fact, so far, that has been our most frequent activity. We email or send stories to each other in advance of a meeting.
DW: The original screenplay for De Verdenking is credited to André van der Hout. Did that go through such a process?
VM: Yes, it was a script which he had done a couple of years ago. I liked it very much. I liked the cyclical idea of the eye at the beginning and coming back to the other eye at the end.
DW: And there are many other cycles within the film too ...
VM: I liked the fact that it completely lacked dialogue. I like films where you express yourself in pictures.
DW: So that was an aesthetic decision not a practical one because Dutch would not be widely understood abroad?
VM: No, not really. I have become used to the idea of making films which express themselves in pictures. When we worked with Reg Lancaster our films were released in UK and Holland at the same time. We tried films with some English dialogue - that was criticised in Holland. Why did we speak English when it was clearly taking place in Holland? That was silly. You can read Shakespeare in German and not ask why is it in German!
DW: So you progressed the story to a shooting script.
VM: We made some fundamental changes. The idea is that this young chap is collecting photographs of angry people, raging people. Some are made by himself and others he has collected. That was a basic change. The woman with the child got a more important role in the finished version. In fact his rejection by her leads to his death because she sends him away...
DW: Was it inspired at all by Rear Window?
VM: No but that is an interesting theory. The first film the boy watches on television is a spoof Psycho made by us specifically for this but otherwise we did not think of Hitchcock.
DW: There is a strong film noir influence.
VM: Yes, yes ... I thought it should have a very threatening mood on the part of the older man (played by Ed Swaan), but the author thought he was more innocent than that. So in the end his deed is something he cannot help .. he wonders himself why he has done it. These hands did it but I don't know why ...
DW: The initial reaction to that character is that he is threatening, then you think, no, only circumstances make him seem so, but finally he is trapped into being the villain.
VM: Some in our group thought it was exaggerated, that we should not make it a murder at the end. But I thought it should be. After all people get killed for even less, in more innocent circumstances. It's a question of rage.
DW: It's interesting that the boy's collection of rage images came late to the mix since it now reads as the heart of the story.
VM: Well we have adjusted the script in many ways. Originally it was written that in his cellar-box he was growing dope. I thought that was a little controversial - and also rather difficult to make. He would have to do it somewhere else because it needs light.
DW: Putting a photographic darkroom and a workshop in the cellar storage area made that corridor more mysterious. I was not sure why you introduced the diversion of the boy's teenage friends.
VM: That was more or less a technicality because we needed to show the umbrella being owned by the young chap. We established that in the teasing scene.
DW: Why refer to Double Indemnity which the young man watches on tv?
VM: Interesting. I don't know why. Originally the idea was to have the old man appearing behind the steering wheel of the black car in the boy's fantasy and that leads into his next fantasy ... but we never shot that scene so he suddenly appears behind those curtains with the knife... I think it was André's idea to have Double Indemnity.
The mother and daughter (Marina and Michaja Nicolai) are really related. We shot 13 hours of film of the child, just playing as we waited until she would do the right things we needed. We just let the camera run. Some of us were a bit desperate - wondering will we ever get what we want? Even after it was done we still doubted if we had got it.
DW: A lot of people did not understand the dream sequences.
VM: That worries me. It is the influence of André. He is more concerned with wild ideas and not really caring if he has communicated in detail .. if it really comes over. I care. My main worry was the misunderstanding ...
At a certain stage of editing there was a time when the group did not quite get the point of those nasty things like the cut-off leg and so on ... they did not accept it as his fantasy or dream. So we introduced a more conventional introduction to the dream. That is why the middle part, where there are two of his dreams, perhaps gets a bit lost.
Problems on the Shoot
One aspect is the sheer physical toil that we had to go through - even if it may not be obvious. The location seems just one room, another room, a balcony and a cellar-box. We had to obtain all the furniture shown and furnish an empty a flat in two ways: one for the old man and one for the young one.
In the cellar we had to remove a partition because the boxes were otherwise too small for the old man's area. We had to remove all kinds of stuff then put it back ... We had to put our lighting in for the corridor and refit it after each day's work because people live there and they want to use the boxes. We had to find the motorcycle, an old one which might look like a collector's item, and buy it - and later sell it again. Those things do not show.
DW: How the residents of the apartments react?
VM: Quite well. We were extremely lucky in one sense. The neighbour to the flat we were using was a professional drummer and our young actor had never touched any drums so he didn't know how to do it. This chap came over and gave him a little lesson. Otherwise they were just a bit curious. There was one bigoted woman who objected to our shooting on Sunday. Her shouting destroyed a couple of shots.
We were on tenterhooks with casting. We had one young chap in line but he called the whole thing off about two weeks before shooting. We had a very precise schedule for all the people involved and so on. We had trouble finding a suitable actor. Yet this turned out to be another piece of luck for we found our lead player, Christian Waard, who is excellent.
We had one location which had the right angle for the shot over to the young woman's flat. But when we went there one day they had installed a temporary lift outside the building in that corner where we wanted to shoot. We had to look for a different flat.
We were looking for some actors in a young actors school. They said they would cooperate but they needed to send a chaperone from their staff but they could not do it this year because they had had a fire and were burnt out.
It is not an easy film, not for relaxation. It requires an atmosphere in which you can concentrate and listen to the sound, some of which is almost not there ...