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BELGIUM Netherlands / France

Banu Akseki • Director of Sans soleil

"It’s a film that’s more immersive than narrative"

by 

- We met with the Belgian director to talk about her atmospheric coming-of-age movie, which she devised in order to show a deteriorating world

Banu Akseki • Director of Sans soleil
(© Alice Khol)

We met with Belgian director Banu Akseki who was discovered via her short films Songes d'une femme de ménage and Thermes. This week sees the release of her first feature film Sans soleil [+see also:
film review
interview: Banu Akseki
film profile
]
, which production company Frakas Film is distributing in Belgium and which stars Louka Minnella, Sandrine Blancke and Asia Argento in its cast. This atmospheric coming-of-age tale paints the portrait of an adolescent looking for lived meaning in a pre-apocalyptic world where the threat of a rebellious sun looms large.

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Cineuropa: How did Sans soleil come about?
Banu Akseki:
After my two short films, I wanted to make a film where I could show a world which was falling apart. Not so much an end-of-the-world film as a decline of what used to be. I didn’t necessarily know what the causes of it would be at that point, but the desire was there. And then, the mother and son duo came to me quite quickly. From that point onwards, I started to think about the sun, how its malfunctioning could have cosmic, almost divine repercussions on the characters’ psyches. I thought it would be really exciting to invent a world, even one quite similar to our own, which was falling apart, deteriorating. A world eroded by a cold melancholy which is slowly extending its reach. The only hope is human warmth, but this is also losing its force.

How did you come up with the trio in the film: the son, the missing mother and the ghost-mother?
When I began the writing process, which turned out to be very long, I read a lot of fantasy stories from the 19th century in which lost loved ones feature heavily. My main character sees some sort of ghost appear, which looks like his dead mother, and which haunts him. We see the same thing in Bruges-La-Morte, for example: the hero is haunted by his dead loved one who appears before him in the streets of Bruges, so he starts following her, struck by this apparition. The same pattern unfolds in my film. It’s not really a ghost as such, but it’s nonetheless a character which takes hold of Joey, despite his best efforts, and transports him to another world. Inevitably, it’s a relationship doomed to failure. A door is opened to another world, and we wonder whether Joey will stay there…

On that note, what part does sci-fi and genre play in the writing process and in your concept of the film?
I didn’t set out with the specific idea of writing a genre film, that’s just how it turned out. It’s true that my two first short films were far more anchored in reality, and that in this film I wanted there to be an element not necessarily of fantasy but of troubling strangeness. Solar flares happen and they can have consequences, but they tend to be minimal. For now. It was a case of amplifying these consequences, and a sense of anticipation and fantasy came with this amplification. The rest of the film is very similar to the world we’re living in.

The pre-apocalyptic picture you paint, in a world very similar to our own, especially in light of the pandemic, is also very troubling, but I imagine it wasn’t something you planned from the outset…
No, it definitely wasn’t planned, there’s no doubt about that. But I think all sci-fi films have the potential to resonate with our lived experiences. It really was extraordinary.

There’s a real minimalism in the film’s narrative and visual aesthetic, which characters in motion are thrust into.
Joey is a walker, he’s obsessed with the ghost. From the outset, I imagined a character who walks without knowing where he’s headed. The story itself is pretty minimalist; not a lot happens, the character’s journey is only broken up by little things. My intuition, in aesthetic terms, was to use a handheld camera. The film’s images aren’t especially smooth, they’re somewhat rough. I wanted to anchor that sci-fi world in our real world. The film is also split between the daytime world and the underground, nocturnal world. The world above is composed of interiors with large bay windows, while the underground world is mostly seen in night-time scenes.

Could you tell us a bit about the film’s incredibly organic sound?
It was important to me that we didn’t drown the film in sound waves; I wanted to release a few layers of sound at a time. I wanted to help viewers achieve a contemplative state. It’s a film that’s more immersive than narrative.

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(Translated from French)

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