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Bas Devos

In film after film, Bas Devos continues with his gallery of portraits of “underexposed and under-represented” people as he put it to describe the character from Ghost Tropic (FID 2019). With Here, we’re back in Brussels, with, at the movie’s centre, a Romanian worker. By chance, out walking, he meets a young Chinese scientist who’s studying moss, familiar stuff although we pay little attention to it. Once the question of place, of the ground we walk on and the ground as a political space, has been established, the film takes us down very different paths. Devos draws out the invisible threads that weave these people together, or with the world. The scenes follow one another in unpredictable, if not contradictory, ways, as if life were not written in advance. The film progresses without drama, like a subtle musical glissando, leading us from one place to another in their lives that delicately intertwine. During the course of this slender narrative, we rediscover his predilection for the night and the special attention it produces, for the alteration of the senses and subjective perception of reality that it allows. A calm, almost surreal night, perfect for listening to the slightest tremor or movement in the air. And a focus on Brussels, its nature, the green of its vegetation, which gradually fills the film with a haziness enhanced by the 16mm. Few words, but gestures, a way of being there, in the space, in the frame. Here touches on the mystery of two people connected by chance, on what keeps them there, together…for no other reason than just being there… and with the right to remain.

Nicolas Feodoroff

The film has a simple and delicate narrative engine, triggered by the image of the protagonist Stefan preparing a soup to empty his fridge before leaving, and sharing it with those close to him, thus guiding us in a wandering through the city. How did the idea for such a structure come about?

In preparation for this film, I spent time talking to Romanians in Brussels, who live and work here, but whose connection to their homeland is often very strong. Because of the free movement of labor and goods, and cheap flights, home is just 3 hours away. This makes their ‘being-here’ more fluid, uncertain or temporary. Even though there’s no general story to be told about labor migration, I noticed that the idea of returning, whether real or imaginary, was often present. So I started thinking about the return. And cleaning a fridge of its left-over vegetables felt like a beautiful ritual to talk about this. 

The character of Stefan, a Romanian immigrant construction worker in Belgium, is played by Stefan Gota. How did your collaboration with him come about and how did you build this character together?

Stefan arrived in Belgium, years ago, working and wandering through Europe. Here, he decided to follow his heart and study theater. I met him while he was working on a performance and liked him immediately. He is such a kind man. I want to work with people I like and so I thought: I want to make a film with him. So, this film really started with him and this quest to learn more about him and to understand his story and the stories of other Romanians here.

Following Stefan’s steps, we gradually meet the network of affections that surrounds him. How did you build this gallery of characters?

Often, I just write and let things come to me. Characters take shape as I write. I believe they are informed by the research I did beforehand. I don’t think about it in the moment, I just write. But when I look back, I often understand that I worked certain ideas into a specific character. And these are things I can then work on, develop. 

Stefan’s path unexpectedly crosses with that of Shuxiu, a biologist of Chinese origin played by Liyo Gong. How did the idea of this counterpart come about?

Shuxiu’s character is a clear example of what I tried to describe above: I just wrote a scene where Stefan goes to eat and meets her. Then I wrote a scene where she’s teaching biology. And things clicked. I understood that I wanted her to be a decisive presence in the film. And many ideas I had gathered about the world of plants and moss seemed to find their place.

The two main characters seem to echo the relationship between urban space and the natural world that underlies the film. Could you tell us about this interconnection? And how did you find the balance between these elements?

Moss plays an important role in the film. It’s such a small, wonderful plant. It is everywhere but it’s near invisible. Until you all of a sudden notice it. And then you see it is everywhere, including in the city. I think we move through the world, constructing it, without paying to much attention to more-than-human world. The noticing of moss is powerful in that sense. In order to see it, attention is required. You need to stop, kneel down, bring yourself close to it. An intimate relation is the result. This transition from concrete to moss was present in the writing, but how this balances out in a film is really a work in editing as well. It’s only there that I can really judge the weight of the different parts.

Interview by Marco Cipollini

  • Ciné + competition

Technical sheet

Belgium, Germany, China / 2023 / 82’

Original version: French, Mandarin Chinese, Romanian
Subtitles: English
Script: Bas DEVOS
Photography: Grimm Vandekerckhove
Editing: Dieter Diependaele
Sound: Boris Debackere
Cast: Liyo Gong, Stefan Gota

Production: Marc GOYENS (Quetzalcoatl)
Contact: Jing XU

Taurus, fiction, 2005 (11’, Short)
Pillar, fiction, 2006 (16’ Short)
We Know, fiction, 2010 (10’ Short)
Violet, fiction, 2014 (82’ Feature)
Hellhole, fiction, 2019 (90’ Feature)
Ghost Tropic, fiction, 2019 (83’ Feature)
Here, fiction, 2023 (82’ Feature)