Matthys Boshoff on Vlees van my vlees (Flesh of my Flesh)
10 August 2023
Clermont Film Fest
Director Matthys Boshoff sits down with the Clermont Film Festival to talk about his film, Vlees van my vlees (Flesh of my Flesh).
The film is certainly very moving. What motivated you to explore that particular relationship between the couple?
The film is inspired by my parents’ story. When I was four years old my mom broke her neck in a car accident and became quadriplegic. It’s a subject matter that people have been bugging me for years to write about. Looking back at my parents’ relationship what fascinates me most are the dynamics and politics at play when lovers have to make a transition to becoming caregivers yet retain the intimacy of romance. Even though the characters in the film are fictional, the story and core events are very close to the truth.
The ending comes as a bit of a shock. What did you hope to convey to the audience?
Without giving away too much, powerlessness is one of the key themes in the film. The notion that we are not really in control of our lives except for making choices, what we do proactively and how we react to events that are almost imposed on our life journeys. Ultimately we all need to let go. The ending really captures the couple’s powerlessness; the penultimate moment of having to let go of all control. The ending is also very close to the real story that inspired the film.
Can you tell us more about casting the actors and how you worked with them to create this relationship?
It was an incredible privilege to work with the cast, especially Erica Wessels and James Alexander Gracie who are international quality actors. I know them both socially and I have done some voice-over work with James before. In all honesty, I didn’t go through an extensive casting process but went with my gut in casting the two leads. They felt right for the roles. I involved them early on while I was still re-writing the script. We did readings over Skype and I allowed them to play with the text and even improvise which gave me more food for thought in re-writes.
Erica’s preparation had to be more technical as she had to play a quadriplegic which is a very daunting task both physically and emotionally. The fact that I grew up with a quadriplegic mom helped a lot because I know nuances and intricate details intimately but the real challenge lay in helping Erica prepare for the role so that she could make choices as an actress. I filmed an hour-long documentary about a friend who is quadriplegic that became the emotional and visual reference for her preparation: posture, movement, the way her fingers are curled, how to eat, do her own make-up and so forth. Erica also spent a lot of time with other quadriplegics and we did a workshop with an occupational therapist who specialises in work with quadriplegics.
Together with the occupation therapist, we practised all the physical movements that the script required. The devil lies in the details and together Erica and I decided exactly where the character’s neck broke. A break at different cervicals influences the quadriplegic’s movement differently which would influence the actor’s performance. One of the main reasons I cast James is because of his ability to portray complex characters that experience conflicting emotions. It is in his eyes. And of course his impeccable comic timing. It’s a heavy story and I wanted to stay clear of melodrama so casting a male lead that could bring humour to the role was very important. Some of the funniest moments in the film were improvised by him. The actors had great chemistry on set and I allowed them to run with it. I wanted the actors to have as much freedom as possible so we blocked scenes but never gave them marks to hit. The technical crew had to be on top of their game as we created a ‘holy’ space in front of the camera for the characters to freely live and move in. My focus was really to keep the cast honest and present. They did the rest.
What sorts of films and genres have inspired you in your work?
I’m a fan of a wide variety of kinds of films, genres and directors. Specifically for this film, I looked at influences from Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road, Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone and to a lesser extent Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, Michael Haneke’s Amor and some of Iñárritu’s earlier work.
What sort of freedoms would you say the short format allows?
I don’t see the short format as a commercial venture and therefore there is greater scope to experiment, be brave and tell a story that you really want to tell. When it came to this short film Box Office sales never crossed my mind. I could focus purely on what I wanted to make within time and budget constraints of course.