Felix Van Groeningen: “People understood the purpose of the film – and they endorsed it”

After receiving the European Parliament’s LUX Prize, Felix Van Groeningen’s The Broken Circle Breakdown continues its successful awards run by grabbing a nomination for the most coveted Oscar for non-American filmmakers. The film is vying for the Best Foreign Language Film statuette, which makes it the seventh Belgian title to get a nomination in the category.
Berlin’s Label Europa Cinemas, the European Film Awards, the LUX Prize, now the Oscar nomination… Did you expect such a success when making the film?
We had very difficult moments with this film. The movie is like an emotional rollercoaster, but making and releasing it has also been tough at times. We didn’t expect something like this to happen, because we didn’t get admitted to two major festivals in the beginning, and it was only when Berlin accepted it that we thought: “OK, something magical could happen”. The premiere in Berlin was so great and so beautiful, and we won two prizes there, and the movie started selling, so we thought: “OK, maybe we can catch up or something”. And we did, absolutely.
It was indeed a great success, but do you think American audience will understand the film the same way the European audiences did?
I think they will. I think they are doing it right now. Of course, there is a bigger and larger audience in Europe for this kind of films: the release in the US is very limited if you compare it to France and Germany, but nevertheless it is very good. And what is extremely exciting for the Academy Awards and for the fact that we’re nominated is that the movie is screening on VOD for professionals in the United States. So that makes me hopeful for maybe winning it too, although the competition is extremely big, we are extremely fond of the other filmmakers  in the competition. But I think we have a chance, we really do, because I have seen how people react there, and that is comparable to how the audience in Europe has reacted.
The strongest frontrunners – probably, The Broken Circle Breakdown and The Great Beauty – were selected for the LUX Prize. Besides the quality of the movies, do you think the themes they tackle could have touched America as well as they did here in Europe?
Yes, absolutely. I will say that the audience is smaller in the US, but it does exist. And critics are also following very closely what happens in Europe, and supporting it too.
The themes approached in your film can be a bit tricky for the Hollywood Academy, which has a conservative reputation. Why then do you think your film has been so highly appreciated?
I’ve done screenings in Palm Springs, where you might think the audience is a little more conservative, we were also in California and other Red States… But I’ve never had any remark on that. People understood the purpose of the film, the criticism the film contains - and they endorsed it, they found that it was right, that it made sense, that it was good that someone had the guts to do it… We were afraid too at some point about the fact that it might be a little difficult for some people, or that it might make them not like it – but that is totally not happening. Totally not. It is even happening in the opposite way, I would say – it makes some people like the film more.
Presence alone in the Oscars can open doors to the American market. Do you have in mind to leave Europe to start making films in America?
Maybe someday. I would love to make one someday but on the other hand it is not my biggest dream. I want to make films, but it is harder to make a film over there than it is to make it here. For that reason I’m not going to drop everything here to go there. On the other hand, I do want to give it a shot and see what happens and how it could work for me there, because I’m meeting with interesting people. I guess that for a European filmmaker, working in the English language and with great actors is something that is appealing, so if I do it, that would be the reason.
Photo: European Parliament - Flickr