INTERVIEW with ERIK LAMENS (writer and director)
What raised your interest to make a film about this subject? When did the first idea appear?
I followed with amazement the actual case when it was happening. As lots of other people, I was angry with the State. In my mind they had no business interfering with somebody’s sex life, even that of a judge. I decided to act upon it in 2005. I was looking for a strong subject to make a feature and this one was on top of my list.
How did you approach the subject? How did you meet Mr. Arosseau?
I called Mr. Aurousseau in july 2005 and I told him and his wife that making a movie is something like a marriage: we would have to trust each other. I needed them to trust me with this part of their life story. The first evening, we had a very nice and warm meeting; there was a ‘click’ right away. They gave me all the original material from the criminal case – all the conclusions of the lawyers, the PV’s (= the written statements by the police), the verdict… It took me 3 weeks to read through all of this and then I said to them: “I think we have a film here.” Of course I needed artistic freedom to bend the reality into good fiction. It was more difficult than I expected. Fiction has its own rules. Even if you encounter something strange on the corner of your street and you come home and you tell to your partner straight away what happened, you already turned reality into fiction: you are telling a story. But they trusted me and I trusted them. I wrote 4 versions of the script; the first one was very realistic but it was a boring film. The more I got away from the reality, the more it became a film. The shooting script (number 4) is in the facts wrong, but in the spirit it is very right. I gave them the script to read and they were very happy with it, they only had 2 minor remarks.
How was the Casting process?
Very weird actually – I thought I would have to cast a porn actress or something, as Fatih Akin had to do with ‘Gegen die Wand’. I was convinced nobody, and certainly not the women, would want to play that part, as it is a very heavy and deep part, with nudity and SM-treatments. There are some things you can fake, but not everything. But to my surprise all the big actors (male and female) were literally lining up to play the main roles. Just because it was so heavy really, that’s why they liked it that much. A well-known actress called me and literally said on the phone: “Take me for that part and I will drop everything I’m doing right now!” People were going really far to get that part. I decided upon the main actor but was deciding for the female part. And one of them said: “I want this part. This is the role of my life.”
Did you face any problems during shooting or during the release of the film?
No, not really. The biggest problem was lack of budget. We had 750.000€, which is only half of what you need. I had 25 shooting days and it didn’t do justice to the script, I believe. I had 179 scenes and had to cut 49 scenes. So we finally shot it at a rate of 5,5 scenes a day. If you know a shot takes about 45’( 12 shots in a day of 8 hours), then you know each scene was shot with an average of 2 shots… Even when do BDSM at their home or in the club the first time, it’s only 2 shots… That way it’s very difficult to get rhythm into a film. You cannot miss one thing, as you cannot cut away. I had to drop lots of nuances, we shot only the basic story. And 8 scenes were cut from the film. That’s something I never had to do. But if a scene is not working but you have no time to rehearse it or look for a solution, then you’re f***ed. So you shoot it like it is but in the editing you have to cut it out as it doesn’t get the standard the other scenes have.
What is your personal opinion about SM? Has it changed after making this film?
As most people, I didn’t know much about BSDM – I’m ‘vanille’, as they say. I was very afraid the first time I visited the club. They knew I was preparing a movie about it, and they had said I was welcome – as long as I was in leather of black clothes. And as long as I respected their world and didn’t go into sensation-seeking, they were fine with my presence as ‘fly on the wall’. And I was really surprised by what I saw – I saw more respect and tolerance. At an average football game, there’s more aggression. The first night of the couple in the club is a fictional report of my first night in the club. I hope my film got the BDSM out of the taboo. In Belgium it worked pretty well. Lots of people went to see the movie, it was even nr. 1 in the cinema, 500.000+ saw it on TV… So I think people think differently now about sado-masochism. Right this week, a student-BDSM club was officially recognized by the university of Ghent. That never happened before. I like to think that my film helped them a bit getting understanding for their way of living.
Are there any anecdotes in respect of the film? Are there experiences of the shoot that impressed you?
There’s a lot of funny things that happened. When we were shooting in the club, we were setting up our food & drink tables outside, as the club itself is pretty small. So all of our half naked extra’s in leather clothes were drinking coffee and eating croissants at 6.00 AM – a nice look. And a man came out and complained. He clearly didn’t like the club and started to make quite condescending remarks etcetera. But then he saw my main actors. They are quite well-known in Belgium, as are lots of the other actors. They weren’t paid very well but they like the script so much that they all wanted to be part of this film. So you could call it an ‘all-stars’-cast. And when this man saw them, his attitude changed immediately. He thought we were making porn or something, but then he said: “Oh, if they are playing it it, it must be serious movie…”. So I introduced him to my main actors, they had a nice chat and we didn’t hear him complain anymore. I knew this man from school, it was a jezuit-school, very strict, with uniform, going to church, making confessions to the priests, suppressed sexuality, etc. So it was funny to see him back between all these hardcore -BDSM people. (All the talking parts are actors, all the extra’s are real people from the BDSM-world.) At 8.00 AM his son came out with his bycicle, to go to the same school as his father and I had been to: he was dressed in uniform, short trousers… And this very catholic school boy had to make a way for himself through all the leather, gorgeous looking, half-naked extra’s. He had blushing red cheeks and looked at the ground. Quite funny.
What is central statement for you of the film?
That BDSM-people deserve respect. They’re no freaks, they just have a different sexual life.
Were the SM scenes difficult to shoot?
Not really. Of course we kicked the whole team out while shooting them – as it usually happens with nudity. So only me, the cameraman and an assistant were inside with the actors. But it doesn’t make a difference, as there is now the ‘video-assist’, so the whole team was outside of the chalet watching what went on inside. Veerle Dobbelaere insisted on playing these scenes herself. Only the part with the needles is a body double. Veerle said she needed to feel the pain to be able to play it. The scene with the needles through the nipples is played by the first female slave you see getting beaten in the SM-club. She was prepared by a session, partly sedated and Eddy Tattoo (a famour Antwerp tattoo artist) performed the insertion of the two needles. Later she said she would never do it again.
How did the actors cope with those scenes?
Very good, actually. Gene Bervoets (the man) said it wasn’t easy for him neither, but obviously the main difficulty was for Veerle, who plays the woman. She didn’t have so much problems with the hitting. The scene with the ‘needle-machine’ was very hard for her to play. She was fixed inside this apparatus for almost an hour and she needed some support after shooting that scene. One remarkable scene was with the candles. Veerle insisted on playing this herself. We had prepared her shoulders with ice, but she was still a bit burned, as the candle-grease reached a part where she wasn’t treated. We did that shot in one take. We rehearsed it ‘dry’ and had to get it right in one time and luckily, we did. Behind Veerle the extra’s were real BDSM-people, and after I said “Cut”, they gave Veerle a big applause. They said: “Where you have gone in a few months, that took us a few years. Respect!”
Why did you choose the title „SM Rechter“?
I’m very bad at titles. They are always litteral. In this case it’s the name he had in the Belgian press, so I stuck with it, as it also has a good conflict in it: SM & Judge – you know these are two concepts you seldom see together.
How did the audience react during the release?
Great. We had a modest promotion campaign, but we were helped by the normal press. Every paper and magazine gave the release a lot of extra attention – the real case had happened ten years before (1996-98) and they all looked back on it with other judges and justice specialists… The première was the society event of the spring. Everybody wanted to be there – there were 8 theatres and they were all packed, 2000+ – people in total with a great BDSM-after party… And they were all enthusiastic. After the first night in the cinema, I received a very nice phonecall – one every director always wants to get of course. The head of the distribution company called me: “You want to hear some good news?” I said: “Yes, of course.” “You’re number one in the cinema,” she said. So our litlle, Belgian film, outranked big Hollywood productions. Great feeling.
How did you become a filmmaker?
I always had a feeling I had something to express. It was always vague and I tried a lot of things: music, writing short stories, drawing… And in film I had the feeling everything comes together. I come from a quite different world: very catholic background, Jesuit-school education, prepared for a lawyer’s or an university career… It took me 6 years of struggling after high school to get into film school. But when I was there, I knew I was ‘home’.
You have any new project in mind?
I’m working on another biography. A completely forgotten man this time. He was born poor, became very rich and lost it all again. A tragic but compelling story and again a man fighting the authorities – at first winning, but losing in the end.