Interview: Maaike Neuville, Perfect Darkness Director

Perfect Darkness is a short about the nature of love. Gus and his pregnant girlfriend Anna are on holiday. During their nightly walk to a spot near the water, Anna makes a confession. Can the couple, amidst the wildness of nature and under a full moon, overcome the conflict? Will they reach their idyllic spot? We spoke to the film’s director, Maaike Neuville, to find out more and hear what challenges she faced.

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The film shows a man and a woman strolling through an abandoned quarry and is an exploration of the nature of love. What was the inspiration behind this film? What motivated you to tell this story? 

I was inspired by the poem Verklärte Nacht by romantic poet Richard Dehmel. When I read the poem, immediately I knew that all the elements were there for a mystical, atmospheric short film. A man and a woman, a full moon, nature being omnipresent and the theme of unconditional love. I wanted to make a film about the power of nature and the fragility of surrendering to one another.

The film was filmed in one-shot. What were the challenges of filming in this way? And what do you think were the benefits as a result in the final film? 

It felt good to film this particular story in one shot because of the importance of this one moment in the lives of the man and the woman. The fact that there is no interruption in the perception of time, I believe creates an extra tension. The spectator is maybe more drawn to the couple because he can live this moment in the same pace as them. At the same time, it gave me the opportunity to have the camera act as a third character, as a force of nature, involuntarily sometimes joining the characters and at other times leaving them behind. This was a way for me to underline how small and vulnerable we humans are against the powerful nature and to put it all into perspective.

The barren landscape of the quarry creates an almost other-worldly feel. Where was this and why did you choose this location? 

Well I think I partly answered this question with my former answer. But it was filmed in a gorge in Crete. I chose this place because of the way I felt when I was there for the first time. I felt so small against these giant rocks, this harsh landscape. I could really feel the force of nature and me being (a small) part of it. And that was for me a very important incentive to make the film: to put us, as human beings, in the right perspective, not being almighty, but in harmony with the forces that surround us.

You were an actor before you turned to filmmaking. What made you decide to make the move and how do you think your acting career helps you as a director? 

I didn’t really make a move from acting to directing. I just sometimes act and sometimes I make a film, or I write for theatre, or I teach. So, depending on what project comes on my path and which ideas pop up in my mind, I act or I direct. What is very important for me is my relationship with the actors. I want to work with them long before the shooting of the film and I want them to be involved in the writing process. My own experience as an actor taught me that it’s extremely important to build up a bond of trust, between yourself as a director and the actors, and between the actors themselves. The actor will feel comfortable in front of you, in front of the camera, in front of their fellow actors which, in my opinion, is the most disarming thing to see on a screen.

Similarly, do you think your directing experience helps when you are in front of the screen? 

I don’t feel that my directing experience helps me when acting. On the contrary, I have to consciously decide to let go, to give up control and to put myself in the hands of the director. But I do like alternating between directing and acting, between taking control and giving up control, and it is my sincere hope that I can continue doing both for a long long time. 

Perfect Darkness is part of the International Competition 3: Mother’s Love programme.

Interview by Amelia Seely