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Film: Jacques a vu - a mystic comedy set in rural Wallonia
On the eve of the national release of Jacques a vu, Xavier Diskeuve tells us about his first feature film. The l’Avenir journalist and satirical writer (Votez pour moi, Bel RTL) has previously directed four award-winning comedy shorts. Shot entirely in Diskeuve’s home province of Namur, Jacques a vu is a continuation of his rural comedy world. When a young couple move from the city to a village in the Ardennes, they are shocked to discover that a Dutch holiday camp is to be built in their garden. Resistance appears futile until cousin Jacques, a tongue-tied bachelor farmer, apparently receives a vision from the Virgin Mary.
Can you describe your emotions as Jacques a vu is about to go on general release?
Pride and impatience that it’s about to be discovered! When you make a comedy, it’s essential to feel the audience’s appreciation of the jokes and the film’s point of view.
What were the challenges in writing your first feature-length film?
Jacques a vu features a number of familiar characters (Jacques, Père Charles, cousin Brice…) and a similar assortment of actors (Nicolas Buysse, Christelle Cornil, François Maniquet, Nicole Colchat, Alain Azarkadon, Jean-Philippe Lejeune…). The challenge was to create a more rounded story with characters tormented by dilemmas and contradictions. It was also possible to plot more subject matter in this film and examine Wallonia today: invaded by Dutch tourists yet highly influenced by the worship of the Virgin Mary and her past apparitions. And all that while maintaining the DNA and the easy-going attitude of my short films.
The scenario is deeply embedded in rural Wallonia. How important is the notion of terroir for you?
Not especially, as I’m not a regionalist. But by recounting stories set in my region and with actors who are like family to me, I can be sure that no other director is doing what I do. I attempt to be both local and universal.
Where did the inspiration for the supernatural element of the story come from?
My family comes from the region of Beauraing where the Virgin Mary appeared to five children in the 1930s. One is still alive today and remains greatly affected by the event. As a child I would go every year on a walking pilgrimage to Foy-Notre-Dame, where there is an enduring worship of the Virgin Mary. So I asked myself, what would happen if the Virgin returned? A few months after shooting the film, there was talk of a small glowing statue of the Virgin Mary in the small commune of Jalhay in the Ardennes. The events that followed only confirmed my feelings about the subject.
Why did you cast the same principal trio of actors as your previous short Mon cousin Jacques?
Having written the plot and dialogue for them, I couldn’t imagine the film without them. Buysse and Maniquet are rather like my Laurel and Hardy. Are you going to change Laurel or Hardy just for marketing purposes? So I adhered to this casting as much as I possibly could.
What were the reasons for shooting the film in your home province?
It’s ideal to finance and shoot a film in Wallonia, although there is a limit to the budget if you don’t shoot in France or Luxembourg or accept that some actors and sets will have to be French or Luxembourgish. We had 30 days to shoot and a budget of €800,000, which was very tight. Fortunately there was not one day of rain during the summer of 2013 – a real miracle! Thank you, Virgin Mary!
Why does the Namur region boast so many actors and directors?
The explanation is in the numerous theatre companies such as Théâtre de l’Escalier, Théâtre Jardin-Passion, Compagnie Victor B and TAP’S, which enable Namur actors to thrive in ideal conditions, under good direction and in works that are really interesting. In this pool of talent, you discover actors with comedy potential and impressive physiques and temperament. There are at least 25 actors in my film that I’ve spotted over the years thanks to these groups.
The tax shelter and other initiatives are now providing some finance for the Belgian film industry. What further improvements could be made?
The tax shelter increases the film’s budget, but it cannot make up more than 50% of the total finance, automatically creating a ceiling. Reform of the tax shelter law is long overdue to make this the ‘net’ amount, allowing more money to go into the production of a film.
As a former film critic, how do you think local films should be covered by the media?
There’s nothing worse than excessive nationalism, in sport as well as cinema. On the other hand, I think it’s natural that Belgian productions should get plenty of coverage. A film shoot is also a spotlight on an area, sometimes little-known, which thanks to the film will attain a mythical status. There are many interesting aspects to explore, if only the small world of Belgian extras. The only regret is that the press are frequently unfamiliar with the ins and outs of film-making, particularly the complex methods of finance and the cruelty of commissions that constrain co-productions. When I was a critic, I paid little attention to this. I thought films were made by magic!
What are your favourite films and directors, Belgian and international?
In no particular order: the Coen brothers, Farrelly brothers, Judd Apatow, Wes Anderson, Roy Andersson, Woody Allen, Luis Buñuel, Pascal Rabaté, Alain Guiraudie, Claude Zidi and Alain Resnais. As for Belgians: Damien Chemin and Jean-Philippe Toussaint. If I had to name a film that continues to fascinate me after dozens of viewings, it would be Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. It almost subconsciously inspired the clergy in Jacques a vu.
Any future projects?
I am waiting to see the reception of Jacques a vu before finding the courage to do this again. We don’t have a bankable cast and promotion is on a shoestring. However, we could have a hit. Jacques a vu has the potential to be a real success.
Jacques a vu (Belgium 2014, 90 mins), comedy by Xavier Diskeuve with Nicolas Buysse, François Maniquet, Christelle Cornil. Screenings at Cinema Aventure and UGC De Brouckère, Brussels, and cinemas across Wallonia
This article was first published in Wab, autumn 2014