P:O.V. No.5 - Three Recent Short Fiction Films, THE BLOODY OLIVE

An Interview with Vincent Bal
on The Bloody Olive

Richard Raskin

I see from the credits that The Bloody Olive is based on a story called Imbroglio by Lewis Trondheim. I've tried to find the story and I couldn't.

No, because it's a comic strip, made by a French artist who does cartoons. This is a very small book, and actually the characters in the story are drawn as little animals with clothes on. But not in the style of Walt Disney. It's a very basic, a very sketch-like style.

Do I remember correctly that you have also done comic strips?

Yes, but that was a long time ago. I still like to draw a lot because that helps me a lot when I make my storyboards.

Did you follow the Imbroglio comic strip very closely, or did you change things around?

We followed the story very closely because we found it was very difficult to change anything, because everything fit together so perfectly. But the atmosphere in the strip was not like in the film. It took place in the present and with animal characters. So we changed it into this 1940's style and into black-and-white, because I thought that atmosphere would be very appropriate to the story. And in the comic strip, the ending was that the detective appears in a closet, so we added a little speech into the camera to make it a bit more surreal. And also in the comic book, the story doesn't take place on Christmas Eve. It's just an ordinary evening.

Why did you make it Christmas?

To make it more dramatic. It's on the evening of peace and nice family dinners that all of these murders are happening.

Did you use professional actors?

Yes I did.

Are they well known in Belgium?

They're not really well known. One of them - the guy who looks a bit like Humphrey Bogart - "Sam," he's pretty well known. The other two aren't.

I've noticed that you did the photography for several other shorts. Did you consider doing your own filming for The Bloody Olive?

Not really. I'm not that good. [Laughter] No, I'm good at doing smaller things. But when the sets get too big, it's difficult for me. And I've been working for a long time with the same cameraman. It's always better to work with someone who really wants to do the thing that he has to do in the film, and I don't really want to be a director of photography. And I don't think I'd be able to this kind of work as well as Phillip Van Volsem did it.

Now I realize that you didn't make up the story, but it still appealed to you, and I'm wondering: what is it exactly that this story is doing? What is the story playing with? Is it playing with a certain type of film? A certain type of fiction? Is it playing with differences between film and life?

I think it's mostly playing with your expectations. There's a certain way of telling a story in which, when you see something, you already know what's going to happen next. And this film gives you the A but then gives you a different B, and even gives you C and D . That was what I liked about it. Also, I thought it was a challenge to make this very comic strip like thing, and see if it works with real people. And it was a change for me personally, because with all the other short films I had done, I wrote the story myself and they were very different - in form, more like little, subtle stories. And I wanted to try something completely different.

Is The Bloody Olive the most successful film you've done?

Sure, no doubt about it. It's a comedy. If a comedy works, there's always a bigger audience for it than for any other type of film. And also, the other films I did were student works.

Can you tell me about your choice of the title - The Bloody Olive?

It's very stupid, actually. I didn't like Imbroglio so much, because I thought it was a bit too difficult for a lot of people. And also I wanted to choose a title which was a bit more referential to the film noir.

Before making a film, I always make a lot of little drawings, to get the style of the film. And I was just trying out some types of letters, and I had to write something, so I wrote "The Bloody Olive." I don't know why. And then the title just remained The Bloody Olive. [Laughter]

There are olives in the film?

There are olives, but I just put them in there because I liked the title.

Can you say anything in general about storytelling in the short film?

Yes. I think one of the reasons that The Bloody Olive is so successful is because this is a story that can only be told in a short film. If you do this in a feature film, people get bored.

I don't think this is the only way you can tell a story in a short film, but I'm sure this is one way that works. A short film is ideal for telling a joke. In my other films, I tried to make little stories, more like short feature films, which also works. But that's another reason that I chose this story, because I read it and I thought: this is just an ideal story for a short film, because it's like dynamite.

But I don't think it's the only option. The nice thing about the short film is that you can tell a story without having to tell everything. You can just make a sketch of a situation, and people go along with it...

Is it your ambition to make feature films in the future?

Yeah, sure. I'm working on a script at the moment. I've finished the first draft and will be rewriting it in December. And I hope that by the time I come to Denmark [March 1998], we'll have the money to produce it next summer.

Is there any advice you would give student filmmakers?

Try not to make it too complicated. Because it's already hard enough to tell a simple story. And just to tell the story, and not to make the best film ever. It's hard enough to just tell a simple story and try to tell a story that you like and make a film that you would like to see. And see a lot of films. If there's anything like a film museum nearby, go and see everything.

3 November 1997