Interview: Felix van Cleeff (Writer/Director – ‘The Violet Hour’) – Playing @ WinterFest 2013

In the beautiful short ‘The Violet Hour‘ from Dutch filmmaker Felix van Cleeff, two young lovers leave the modern city and all possessions behind to enter the wilderness, where they make love for the very last time. In the summer of 2011 Felix  and his minimal cast/crew went to the nature of South-Sweden to make this purely visual film that is a lyrical poem on pure love and death.

Since then the film has gone on to screen around the world at the likes of The Seattle International Film Festival, HollyShorts Film Festival and the Indie Gathering International Film Festival.  On January, 2nd, 2013 ‘The Violet Hour‘ will be coming to New York City as part of WinterFest 2013 to be held at the Anthology Film Archives and presented by NewFilmmakers NY.

Felix van Cleeff is a young director from The Netherlands. He has made several independently produced short films, among which The Violet Hour,
which has been screened at the Seattle International Film Festival and other festivals in the States and The Netherlands. Van Cleeff frequently collaborates with Belgian cinematographer Stijn Grupping.  His latest film My Bethesda Angel, starring Lee Reitelman & Irina Varina, was shot in New York.  Van Cleeff is also a singersongwriter and has composed music to some of his films.   You can listen to his album Into The Dark at:

From Wednesday, January 2 – Wednesday, January 9, 2013  NewFilmmakers presents WinterFest 2013 at Anthology Film Archives (32 2nd Ave & 2nd st.) with a week of short films, documentaries and features, spanning the spectrum of what film can cover.

To start off, can you give me a brief “Director’s Statement’ about your film ‘The Violet Hour?

It began with the image of the boy and the girl making love in the forest and being naked in the water. I wanted to make a visual poem, film the world with a childlike sense of wonder. A celebration of love and beauty. What is more beautiful than to die or vanish side by side with your lover? Ultimately it’s a way of seeking something pure in a confused, chaotic world where human relations are so clouded by the mundane. For all our so-called progress, I think we’ve lost something, forgotten how to look at the world and each other as a child. You might say the two protagonists retreat to a childlike state, or they have never left that state and refuse to grow up in a cold, heartless world.

The film features a nice relationship between image and music; can you explain the thought process behind the specifics of the soundtrack?   How did each piece match with the particular sequence in which they were featured?

For me filming is like making music, always searching and creating in the moment, shaping colors, sounds, gestures of the actors. Everything is always in motion in a fluid way, which you can see in the ever moving style of fragmented editing. During the shooting of The Violet Hour I knew the soundtrack would consist of classical, orchestral pieces to elevate the spiritual, lyrical tone of the film. But it was not until the editing phase that the specific musical pieces came about. Music to me is a very intuitive thing. It’s not rational or preconceived, but a matter of trying what works and what doesn’t, like painting, an endless search. It’s always a wonder when a certain piece of music makes a scene come alive before your eyes in the editing room, like the Ravel concerto which guides the underwater sequence in this film like a dance and transforms it into a ballet of naked figures. It’s important that the music fits in an emotional way, not the kind of sentimental emotions that are often forced on us, but all kinds of unforeseen things that make you dream or remember or smell something from the past.

Why did you decide on such a minimal (if not non-existent) use of dialogue?

I wanted to tell the story in a purely visual way, like a tone poem or a Japanese haiku. No clutter of words. Everything stripped to the bare essence. Just the silence of nature and the silence between the boy and the girl. I think it suits the theme of young lovers and romantic suicide. In everyday love words can ruin everything. True pure love doesn’t need any words. There is intuitive understanding. The two protagonists in the film have a silent pact, they’ve left the need for language behind, as they have burned their possessions. I was looking for silences, gestures, whispers. In actual life that is where the real drama lies and those silent images, of people we love or once loved, will linger in our dreams and haunt our memory.

Personally, I see the distinct influence of Terrence Malick and Ingmar Bergman in this film, as a filmmaker, who are some of your filmmaking influences?  Also, specifically who are some of your European filmmaking influences?

Apart from the directors you mention, I would say people like Andrzej Zulawski, Leos Carax, Kieslowski, Fellini, Cassavetes. All people with independent minds who have a strong vision, an inner world they feel the need to express, and who are not afraid. I admire them because they go all the way, risking failure, but always striving for truth past generally accepted conventions. And also a sensitivity to beauty, a poetic understanding of the world. People who confront us with their dreams, their nightmares, their hopes, or visions of raw reality.

In the making of The Violet Hour in particular I was also very much inspired by the writings of Japanese writer Yukio Mishima and his obsessive ideas about beauty and death.

I understand you have also shot a film in NYC (as ‘The Violet Hour’ was done in your native Netherlands note: actually ‘The Violet Hour’ was mostly shot in the nature of Sweden; only the city scenes were shot in The Netherlands), compare the filmmaking experience here in NYC in relation to at home?

My cinematographer Stijn Grupping and I have developed a kind of freeform guerilla way of shooting that helps us shoot independently in a minimalistic way under various circumstances, be it the forests of Sweden, Brooklyn rooftops or the streets of European cities. It’s like creating jazz music on the spot. Our new film My Bethesda Angel, with Lee Reitelman and Irina Varina, was shot in New York City in a way that was not much different from how we shot scenes in the nature of Sweden. It’s a fluid way of filmmaking – determined partly by the limitations of practical circumstances – that asks for a kind of open-mindedness and willingness from everyone involved to go all the way and free themselves from convention, take risks. Find emotional truth in the moment. You can do that everywhere, any location, you can turn any space upside down, if you feel that kind of urgency and if the right spirits are together. It presumes a very personal way of filmmaking, for everyone involved, a sense of trust and collaboration. That’s why I tend to shoot with a small crew and just two or three actors, which enables this kind of freedom.

We shot My Bethesda Angel all over the place during the course of a single week: on the subway, in the streets, bridges, in Central Park. Of course the setting of New York is so vibrant and alive that there was a tremendous sense of energy during the shoot. I believe everything can be done if you really throw yourself into it and try to express yourself in the most honest naked way possible.

Practically, Intellectually, Creatively (or anything else), what was the most difficult part of creating this film?

I think everyone involved in the making of The Violet Hour was very much in tune, which made for a very natural shooting process. All were young people wanting to collaborate on something beautiful, something they felt was worth making. We – two actors and a crew consisting of four people – travelled the south of Sweden, searching for the right locations and inventing scenes on the spot. There was a very spontaneous atmosphere, open for improvisation. Stijn danced freely with his camera around the actors who were not afraid to be vulnerable and reach for a kind of intimacy that we don’t often see in films. Since there is no written script or preconceived set-up of shots, it can be difficult at first for the actors to try reach that state and just be, but once they’ve freed themselves, everything becomes possible and you get a sense of magic happening.

To me it is a very hopeful way of filmmaking. There is definitely some kind of narrative or thematic framework, but nothing is fixed, nothing is static, which allows us to reach certain hidden depths that we couldn’t have thought of beforehand and, what’s most important, allows us to surprise ourselves. If we can no longer be surprised nor surprise each other than what is the point of making a film?

Find All the Information on The Rest of NewFilmmakers NY WinterFest 2013HERE


1/2 – Opening Night
1/3 – Vampire Films
1/4 – Addiction Films
1/5 – Documentaries
1/7 – Documentaries Night 2
1/8 – Special Program curated by Tova Beck-Friedman
1/9 – Special Program with Third World Newsreel


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Eric Norcross
Eric Norcross

Felix's film is a masterpiece and I can't wait to see his new one!


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