What do you do when an ex-boyfriend calls you after mysteriously disappearing years before? What do you do if you’ve moved on from that painful loss, happily started a family, completely changed your life for the better? What do you do if your past is something you’d rather forget, something perhaps unpleasant? Filmmaker Mia Engberg received such a phone call, and wanted to ignore it. But she couldn’t. Her memories, foggy and unclear, were too alluring.
The hybrid documentary ‘BELLEVILLE BABY‘ is framed by the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. His lover sucked down into Hades, Orpheus negotiates her release (via an act of beautiful artistry) on one condition: that he not look back, not remember what he’s seen. The man in this film is desperately trying to look back, and once again the search may not be beneficial for the woman. Our man has indeed been in an unspeakable place, a cruel and violent prison, and he has developed a necessary blunt cynicism he is now trying to pierce by rekindling beloved memories.
We spoke with Mia Engberg prior to the films screening as part of the 2013 Rooftop Films Summer Series of events at The Old American Can Factory rooftop on Saturday, July 6, 2013. The events begin at 8pm with live music leading into the NY PREMIERE of ‘BELLEVILLE BABY‘ and followed by a courtyard reception.
For More Information on Rooftop Films & TICKETS to ‘Belleville Baby’ Click – HERE
Your film involves reconnecting with Vincent, a criminal with whom you shared a romantic relationship many years ago. You have said the story was so personal that during production you were not sure if you would show anyone the completed film. What made you initially decide to pursue the project? How was this film’s production important to you personally?
I didn’t really want to make this film, but I couldn’t get it out of my system. It kept coming back to me so finally I just went with the flow and made it. I guess it was my way of dealing with the loss and the sorrow after realizing that Vincent wasted all those years in prison.
At first it was just a text and a black film. The images came later. While making it I wasn’t even sure if it was going to be a film.
You frame the film by recounting the Greek myth of Orpheus. Can you explain how the myth applies to your own narrative?
The Orpheus myth is my favorite among the greek myths. Orpheus goes down to the underworld to get his beloved Eurydice back, but he loses her in the last minute. To me it is a story about passion. You try to grasp it and it’s gone. It is also a story about wanting to save someone with your love. Everyone who has been in love with someone who is into crime or drugs or any kind of addiction knows that it is impossible. Everyone has to deal with their own darkness. That is the heart of Belleville Baby. The sorrow of not being able to save someone you love.
The film, which mixes a variety of audio and visual content, is experimental. You have even said that at one point you were worried few people would understand it. Why was it important to tell this story in such a non-traditional way? How did the format complement the content?
I find mainstream fiction and documentaries very boring. The stories are predictable and the way they are told doesn’t trigger my fantasy. Why does every feature film has to be told in the same way? Who made up those rules? I like films that try to use the cinematic tools to make something new and surprising. I wanted to destroy classic cinema. Like Marguerite Duras and Chris Marker.
In the film, you and Vincent remember the past differently. In what ways is memory an interesting topic to you? What does the film say about how subjective the idea of memory can be?
Me and Vincent don’t remember the same things about our common past. In the film he tells me about the happiest moment in his life, that we spent together, but I don’t remember it. I think we chose our memories to create ourselves. Our identity. In a way you could say that memory is our way of writing the fiction about ourselves. I find the concept of time interesting too. And scaring. One moment we are here. The next moment we are gone. Isn’t that very scary? I think that’s why we we make films – to resist time, to freeze the moment and make it eternal.
Since “Belleville Baby” has only recently begun screening in the U.S, how have American audiences received the film so far? Does their reaction differ from that of European audiences? To what extent will you now focus on the U.S. festival circuit?
After Belleville Baby screened in Seattle Film Festival I got a wonderful letter from someone in the audience who wanted to tell me about his own memories. This happens every time the film shows actually, same in Europe, people feels personally connected somehow and want to tell their own stories. I never had that with my previous films. I guess we all have a Vincent somewhere in the past. Someone lost and loved who stayed in our memory.
The film has been very well received everywhere except in France, which is interesting since the story takes place in Paris and Vincent did his time in a French prison.
I am very much looking forward to have more screenings in the US. There seems to be a great interest here in independent cinema. This week we screen in Rooftop Films in New York and then Mill Valley Festival in California. I hope there will be more.
– Interview prepared by David Teich
Saturday, July 6, 2013
Rooftop Films presents
‘BELLEVILLE BABY’ – NY Premiere
@ The Old American Can Factory
232 3rd St.