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A Conversation with Bas Devos (HERE)

Bas Devos' HERE

Back at the New York Film Festival I was taken by the description of Bas Devos’ film Here as I was looking through the program lineup. It read something like:


“HERE – 2023 – Belgium

Dutch, French, Romanian, and Mandarin with English subtitles

82 minutes”

Clearly a very international film with four languages, and all in a brisk 82 minutes. The Belgium-born Devos is on to his fourth feature film, and though I have not seen his first three, I was eager to chat with him about Here since it felt like such a revelation. Not only due to its international flavors, but also the subtle romance between the leads Stefan (Stefan Gota) and Shuxiu (Liyo Gong), and his approach to capturing nature in all its mystery.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Hammer to Nail: Talk about the setup of the film with the Romanian guy who takes a construction job in Brussels.

Bas Devos: A lot of it started with Stefan Gota (who plays the male lead). This is someone I’ve known for quite a while. I realized I didn’t know so much about his own background. He didn’t know many other Romanians in the city (of Brussels). So we went out and started interviewing them to get a sense of their lives. It started as this research project, not really sure that at the end we would have a film. I spoke to many men working in construction and a lot of women working in care, in hospitals and elderly homes. What was really pleasant for me was to discover that there was nothing to say about this group in a more general way, all of the stories were so different, their dreams were different, their reasons for coming here were different. The only thing I kept hearing a lot was the idea of ‘the return’, not making Belgium the final destination but returning to Romania. For some it is realistic, in the near future, for others it’s more of a dream, like they have kids here and they are never going back. But I started to feel this would be part of the film: a man on his way back to Romania, but is it gonna happen or not? This remains in flux.

HtN: Some might call this slow cinema, though I didn’t find it slow at all. How did you approach the pacing?

BD: We used most of what we shot and did not throw out that much. There is a lot of work done on set on pacing, like how much time it takes for someone to walk in, to do an action, to walk out of the frame. These are things I try to sense on set. However it’s hard to see the totality of the scenes in the larger film. I lean on my editor Dieter Diependaele who is so good at feeling when the shot should stop and when the next one should begin. It’s really a question of intuition. I think ‘slow cinema’ is a weird term, for me it’s ‘very normal paced cinema’–pretty human paced. Maybe we are slower creatures than we pretend we are.

HtN: Did you have any specific ways of wanting to capture nature?

BD: We didn’t do shot-lists. We talked more about the feeling of the film. I wanted to include as much possible green and greenery. How can we slowly zoom in and dive deeper and deeper into the green, without using an actual zoom shot, but bringing us there shot by shot. The way that the microscope changes lenses.

HtN: As you’re talking I was thinking about the microscope on the moss cells, and also the green firefly in his hands, which was a nice magical realism moment.

A still from Bas Devos’ HERE

BD: I went looking for moments I myself didn’t fully understand. I like this ‘not knowing’ as a filmmaker. You should be in control, and filmmakers should know the important things about their film, but I like when little things are unexplainable. These moments like the firefly moment you can read it like that or read it like a dream, is it a magical light or just a firefly he caught? I just thought this was pleasant, it gave me joy, and if it gave me joy then maybe it will give joy to the audience as well.

HtN: Who in your life has made you soup?

BD: Many people… The last person to bring me soup was my editor. On New Years Eve, we invited some friends over, and he cooked up this amazing pumpkin soup. He brought this big container – 5 liters of soup. It’s strange but not one second did I think about my own film. I was just like ‘Aw so nice! Soup!’ I should write him a text now that I didn’t even think about that.

HtN: This is the editor who edited Here?

BD: Yes.

HtN: I’m sure he was thinking about it when he was making the soup.

BD: Probably. Probably…

HtN: I was curious what song was playing in Shuxiu’s headphones when she’s looking through the microscope?

BD: It’s something we made ourselves. Liyo in real life is a DJ, but when we shot it there was no music playing. I thought it would be a fun surprise for her to add something 180 beats per minute in post. My sound designer quickly made something fast paced with an aggressive beat. It was beautiful to see this contrast of her listening to this bounding hardcore techno and then looking at this super fragile miniature plant.

HtN: How did you direct the shot on the train after they separate and she’s thinking about him and smiling? It’s a nice moment of reflection.

BD: It was a real train. I love the trains in Brussels. We had permission to be there but we had no control of the surroundings. It was the very first shot we did with Liyo. To control an actor’s performance is a big challenge. When does it become too large, too obvious? When is the smile too large? She did super well, I was really impressed.

HtN: At one point another character asks Shuxiu about her romantic encounter and asks ‘what’s his name?’ Upon my second viewing it occurred to me that Stefan and Shuxiu never exchange names in the film, is that true?

BD: Yes it’s true. They don’t meet through these logical questions of what’s your name? Where do you come from? They meet through looking at the world.

–  Matthew Delman (@ItsTheRealDel)

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Matt Delman is the Editor-at-large for Hammer to Nail, spearheading the redesign and relaunch of the site in January 2020. Delman has been a frequent contributor since 2015, with boots on the ground at film festivals across North America. He also runs a boutique digital marketing agency, 3rd Impression, that specializes in social media advertising for independent film. He was recently featured in Filmmaker Magazine for his innovative digital strategies.

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