A NOVEL APPROACH - Stijn Bouma
Geoffrey Macnab talks to talented Dutch filmmaker Stijn Bouma, whose films thus far have been informed by two cornerstones of the classical literary canon.
Stijn Bouma's short Lejla, which screened in Cannes last year, was inspired by the great Irish author James Joyce's story "Eveline". His new film Regained Memory, which premiered earlier this summer in Karlovy Vary*, is partly based (as its title might suggest) on Marcel Proust's "À la recherche du temps perdu". Both films were supported by the Netherlands Film Fund.
"A lot of my films, they start from literature," Bouma reflects. "It is usually some kind of psychological idea that I react to and then try to translate to film somehow, and give it shape."
In Regained Memory Amir, a widower, struggles to remember the face of his late wife. As he tries to picture her, wandering through Sarajevo, he delves back into memories of his childhood. He feels guilty that he can't remember her more clearly and vividly. Does that mean he didn't pay enough attention to her when she was still alive?
Bouma points out that across his general reading he had always encountered frequent references to Proust and was determined to read the books for himself. He found himself fascinated by the way the French author explored identity, memory and loss.
The project was made at the Sarajevo Film Academy where he studied under renowned Hungarian auteur, Bela Tarr. The city of Sarajevo itself was an influence on Bouma. There, he met people who had direct memories of the Balkan War and who had experienced the siege. What they had seen "stuck with them forever." The young Dutch director had also recently been through a bereavement of his own. "That was another trigger. How do I remember this person?" Why, he wondered, do some memories resonate far more strongly than others?
At 51 minutes the film is midlength. "I first thought it was going to be a lot shorter," Bouma recalls. He decided, though, that the length suited the material. "It's a question of rhythm."
Bouma made Regained Memory through Alchemic Film, the Dutch production company founded by his friends Paul Oscar Kanter and Ibrahim (Ibo) Karatay and which also supported Lejla . Extra finance was raised through crowd funding.
The director tells how it was very gratifying to see an audience full of young people at the Karlovy Vary premiere, which was organised through European Film Promotion. "I was really surprised," Bouma notes. "Half the audience were teenagers!" The film is due to show at the Netherlands Film Festival in September. It will also be shown at various Dutch cinemas alongside Lejla as part of a double bill on tour.
The prolific young Dutch director, who is now based in Amsterdam, has already completed another film. Visite (supported by the Netherlands Film Fund) is a short about a widow visited by her son. He asks her if she still feels comfortable living in the old family house which feels strangely empty following the death of her husband. In some ways, Visite can be seen a companion piece to Regained Memory . "But it's a lot more Dutch," its director says. It was shot in a small village in the north of the Netherlands. It touches on certain traits of the Dutch personality, for example "pride and the facade that we show to other people to hide what really goes on."
Now, Bouma is beginning to set his sights on making his debut feature. He has already received support to start developing it. "I am still at the research stage," he says. Having taken inspiration from Joyce and Proust, which authors is he looking to next? "Well, I think I will dive a little bit into Dostoevsky and maybe also try to deal with more contemporary authors..."
SEE NL Magazine #32 September 2018 / Venice, TIFF & NFF Issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by EYE International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.