There comes a time when we open our eyes and realize that we have no grasp of what stands behind our ‘I’. “I think, therefore I am,” said René Descartes some hundred years back, but sometimes we don’t question our existence per se; we just question who we’ve become. Are we who we thought we would end up being? If not, do we like where we stand?
This lost sense of Self is what Anke Blondé’s debut feature, The Best of Dorien B., explores as it follows Dorien (Kim Snauwaert) in her attempts to balance her roles as wife, mother, veterinarian, and daughter. Dorien is facing difficulties in every one of these fronts: her relationship with Jeroen (Jelle De Beule), her husband, is going through a rough patch, her children no longer need her, she has abandoned her dream job, and her parents are divorcing. Hence, the possibility of a breast lump after a mammogram is the final push that brings her over the edge. At its core, the film is about communication: both verbal and non-verbal.
I had the chance to meet with the talented and hilarious Anke Blondé following the film’s screening at the Edinburgh Film Festival this year!
Ioanna Micha: What made you want to write the story of Dorien B.?
Anke Blondé: Well, I think I was 30 years old too, and I just had two babies. My parents were divorcing, my house was under construction, and I was trying to kick-start my career which, considering the environment I just described, was impossible. And then I sort of had a crisis; I think it was an identity crisis. I was having this moment where I sort of felt abandoned by everybody. It was the time when the documentary about Al Gore came out. When we learned about the financial crisis and we realized that the banks were corrupt. All that made me feel that everything everyone said wasn’t true anymore. So, I kind of started thinking about that, and decided to read books about communication in order to get a better understanding of how I was raised by my parents, and how I could work on my own relationship in light of my parents’ divorce. To be honest, I truly believe that there is this point in your life where you are at a crossroads and everything collapses and you need to restart. For me, these are very important moments in your personal life. With that in mind, I think that maybe some people will watch this movie and be comforted by it. They will understand that they’re not alone.
IM: Perhaps this comforting atmosphere comes from the film’s genre seeing that it’s both a comedy and a drama. How difficult was it to maintain a balance between the two?
AB: Well, for me it’s not difficult because I have the tendency to search for humor in life as well as in my films. However, I had to be really careful with it, so that it wouldn’t end up being too dramatic or even too funny, like a slapstick movie. Although, there are some scenes that are a bit slapstick-ish (laughs) and I didn’t want to avoid that, but I also didn’t want the film to be ridiculous.
IM: The Best of Dorien B. is a film that showcases the life of a modern woman. It’s clear that one of the film’s themes is the effect motherhood has on a woman’s sense of identity. Could you elaborate on that?
AB: Well, Dorien has a lot of things that she needs to keep up in the air. Becoming a mother is a role changer. So, I think that maybe every woman goes through something after she becomes a mother. Well, maybe not every woman! I don’t know! Personally, I had a feeling that suddenly everybody looked at me in a different way. But, perhaps that was part of the identity crisis I was going through (laughs). In a way, I started to feel that I suddenly had boundaries. My mother is from a generation where women didn’t have careers. The same generation that always said to us ‘you can do whatever you want. You’re free.’ The moment you have children, however, you’re not as free anymore. It enriches you in so many ways, but, for me, it also kind of felt that I had to step out of the character of being Anke (laughs) and look at these two human beings and raise them. At that moment you do so much for everybody that you kind of forget about yourself. And we see exactly that in Dorien, especially after an old friend comes back into her life.
IM: That is until she discovers that she may have breast cancer; it’s the final straw. But besides that, what is the significance behind Dorien’s breast lump?
AB: Well, the lump is yet another thing that goes wrong in her life. Further, I believe that breast cancer, and therefore the possibility of a mastectomy is a strong blow to a woman’s identity. I was exploring the idea of womanhood, and since, for me, a mastectomy is a threat to the most feminine part of the female body, it felt natural to use it as an extra problem for her identity crisis.
IM: So, how come you chose Kim Snauwaert for the role of Dorien? I mean since she hadn’t had any roles in film before.
AB: I started looking for Dorien a long time ago when I was still writing. I had the feeling that I had to cast her during the writing process, so that I could write around this person. But, I didn’t find her for a long time. I tried with a lot of Belgian actresses, but I couldn’t feel that they fit the character. Kim is actually a mother that I met at my daughter’s school. I always had this feeling about her that she would be good on screen because she has these beautiful, big eyes. So, I approached her one day and asked her if she was interested in acting, and she said: ‘yeah, why not? I did acting in high school!’ She then came to casting and she did great! I mean it’s hard to find someone that is good both in comedy and in drama, and Kim can definitely do both, especially the type of irony we have in the film. I also think that when you’re acting in front of a camera you need to have expressive eyes; it’s the best quality for an actor, in my opinion, and she has it enormously. I mean you can read her mind! She’s just not saying anything (both of us laugh). So, I’m very happy with the choice of Kim because when you make a movie, you watch it thousands of times, and every time I see her, I can enjoy her performance and that’s really nice! Actually I’m happy with all my casting choices! I cast the film in a very specific way. Considering that this was Kim’s first role, I wanted to make sure that she felt very comfortable with everyone around her! So, Katelijne Verbeke, who plays Dorien’s mother, Monique, was the first one I cast. Actually, I’m such a fan of Katelijne that she was the only actress I had in mind from the very moment I started writing Monique. I mean, she’s hilarious! Between scenes she was doing something (laughs) and I kept telling her ‘are you in character?’ and she was saying ‘no you just cast me very well!’ (laughs).
Then I cast Dirk van Dijck who plays Dorien’s father, Jos, who is such a sweet man and has a great mysterious aura. He came to casting and when he left the room Kim said: ‘it was like I was dancing, and there was this great leader in the room!’ So, for me it was very natural to choose him as the father. Then, I cast Jelle De Beule! He has worked mostly on TV, and in comedies. I mean he’s not a stand up comedian, but he does a lot of comedy and that’s why I chose him. To be honest, I always thought that if an actor is good in comedies, he/she will be even better in drama because he/she knows exactly how the timing of a line works.
IM: I have to admit that Dorien and her father are my favorite characters! Do you have a favorite character?
AB: I love all of the characters of course (laughs). After all I wrote them! (laughs). But a favorite? No, that’s a very difficult question. For me, it’s not about the character, but about the situation. So, I tend to have favorite situations!
IM: (laughs) Okay, then. How about a favorite situation?
AB: One of my favorite scenes is actually the slapstick scene between Dorien’s parents when they are fighting at the door (laughs). I also love the one with the sandwich where Dorien has humus all over her face when she’s having lunch at her husband’s workplace. That was actually Kim’s idea (laughs). She just bit into the sandwich and there was humus on her cheek and she said ‘what if I leave it there?’ and I said ‘yeah, do that!’ (both of us laugh).
IM: So, do you have another project in mind?
AB: Yes, right now I’m busy on a television show that is about three women. It will be on TV next year in the fall. I’m co-directing it.
IM: Is there something that you’d like to add that I haven’t covered yet?
AB: I don’t know! Well, a lot of people say that The Best of Dorien B. is a feminist film, and the truth is that I didn’t look at it that way when I started writing it. Now, however, I understand why people are saying that, and I agree because I realized that sometimes oppression can be found in details; not only in extreme situations. The thing is that feeling oppressed has to do with society. But, because of movements like the Time’s Up movement, I think that we are in a good place right now. The truth is that if someone had asked me two years ago if I was a feminist, I would have said no because it was a bad word. But, we have to understand that it’s not a bad word; it’s the word’s meaning that is misunderstood. It’s just means equality for men and women. So, of course I’m a feminist! How can you be against equality? That being said, I really want to bring a positive outlook in all this because I don’t like the way people are generalized or put in a corner. I want to encourage people to stop being shy about being a feminist. I hope that it will evolve into something that all people will look at positively!