Interview: Jaco Van Dormael, director of ‘Mr. Nobody’

Jaco Van Dormael’s latest feature Mr. Nobody (2009) – starring Jared Leto, Diane Kruger, Sarah Polley, Rhys Ifans and Juno Temple – is a fitting example of the writer/directors highly visual approach to storytelling. Belgium’s most expensive film, Mr. Nobody is a colourful, intense drama, full of dreamlike imagery open to various interpretations. Van Dormael fittingly described his latest feature – now available on DVD and Blu-ray – as a “labyrinth” when CineVue recently had the chance to speak to the director about the movie.

Margherita Pellegrino: Was it a long process bringing Mr. Nobody to life? Can you tell us something about this?

Jaco Van Dormael: Yes it was quite a long process – it actually took me quite a few years. The writing itself took me six years, and then preparing and filming it…this film took a total of ten years to be made. It took so long because I was looking to represent the strange experience of being alive, which is a process with causes and consequences that are not very clear most of the time. The most beautiful, the most significant things, are not very clear and not easy.

MP: Mr. Nobody is very surreal and almost dreamlike. What inspired you exactly as the writer of the story?

JVD: My starting point was probably the thought of “what would have happened”. Every day we make different choices in life. We have choices after choices, that can steer our lives in different directions – there is a sense of infinity to it, and this is [what inspired me].

MP: Can you tell us something about your choice of actors for the film?

JVD: Well, when I am writing I don’t have actors in mind; Jared [Leto]was almost an obvious choice and he was fantastic. He is an actor that can be totally unrecognisable in every different film he makes, and so he was perfect to play nine different versions of Nemo – he really did a fantastic job. Diane [Krueger], also, in this film plays a role which is different from others she’s played before – and she has this energy and was great in playing this character that lives on the memory of a child, someone who chose not to be anywhere and not to make choices…Sarah Polley was also great to play my Elise – and she did an excellent job of not hurting herself after having to spend two weeks crying in a bed.. Finally, the teenage actors were also really amazing. I actually started by casting them first.

MP: With a narrative so full of surrealism, was it difficult for you to show that on film?

JVD: I feel that when you write, you see images, but they are out of focus. Then when you film it, you start to see it in flesh and blood, and we tried to represent it as something you’re never sure if it’s life or reality, if it’s true or fake; like a sort of labyrinth.

MP: How did you decide what lives to represent on screen?

JVD: I would have loved to represent infinity – infinite versions of a life – but of course time is limited and life is short, so I showed nine different lives but with the feeling there could be hundreds. All these lives are a product of the choices the person makes – like the first one, with [the protagonist’s] mother and father at the train station, and the second one, with the three different girls he could fall in love with and live different existences with. They could all mean a different life, and a different way to love, different scenarios.

Margherita Pellegrino