(photograph by Dom Garcia)
Whilst enjoying some time off in Berlin, electrifying filmmaker Xanaé Bove made some time for us, to share some Vietnamese chow in Mitte. We chatted about her connection with death, what she wants for her own funeral and how death features in her work.
Xanaé has been making films for more than half of her life. She describes her work as a playful exploration of fantasies, endeavouring to create an off-beat atmosphere where the wonderful mixes with some darkness. A lot of her work has to do with death and identity, and so she had a lot of thoughts and personal anecdotes to share with us.
You’ve made some shorts about death, tell us how that came about.
Let’s see, well I made ‘Life before Death?’ back in 2004. I had no plans at all to film, but my boyfriend and I were in Bologna and we visited this cemetery (Cimitero monumentale della Certosa) and it was so amazing, I immediately thought I have to film here! I mean it’s looks more like an open-air museum.
You see, I already had the title in my head and as soon as I saw the place, I knew I had to film it there. I was so excited I couldn’t film properly at first – I was literally shaking. I didn’t even have a plot really. I’d just bought these red leather gloves and started to improvise, and it all came together. It was so powerful.
You say you already had the title, so why did you want to broach the topic of death in your work?
Film is a great medium to communicate a topic like death. There’s something romantic about death. It’s a resonating topic with me, you see, in each of my film credits I say ‘reincarnation’ instead of ‘interpretation’ – because I feel that people are giving body and flesh to it. It’s much more than interpretation.
From my own experience, I lost my father when I was six and my grandmother when I was seven. In a way it’s sad, but in a way it’s quite funny. Because I was so young, my mother told me that they were on holiday. When I turned eight I was terrified of holidays because each summer holiday somebody was missing! It’s tough but in another way it’s helped me to be confronted with it so young.
“I like funerals in film more than in real life… Funerals are like a punishment”
I didn’t go to my father’s funeral. My mother was too shocked and didn’t want me to witness it. I don’t regret not being there. I like funerals in my films more than in real life. In France, funerals are like a punishment. They’re so ugly, especially at cremations – horrible rooms with low ceilings. If we look at other countries they have beautiful rituals. But in France, if you weren’t sad before the funeral, simply due to the context you will be afterwards! I’m not exactly sad at funerals – I’d say it more depresses me. You’re meant to feel guilty.
And in your films you haven’t chosen ugly cemeteries – quite the opposite. Tell us about them:
Yes, well as I said, ‘Life before Death?’ was filmed in Bologna, it’s quite eerie and mysterious, and explorative… And ‘Good mourning – Demi Deuil’ I filmed in an amazing cemetery in a beautiful forest which isn’t that common for France. It’s very romantic with the trees and the green leaves – it was an ideal location.
‘Demi Deuil’ is a black comedy so I filmed it a bit like a cocktail party. It’s the funeral of an agent, who wants everyone to be dressed in purple because he’s been to India. The main protagonist who’s an actress, comes to the funeral thinking it’ll be her big break, but wasn’t informed of the dresscode. She can’t wait to turn heads in her backless little black dress… It’s rich in black humour, but also quite poignant.
‘Demi Deuil’ means “Half-mourning”: they say that people who were not that close to the deceased would wear grey or purple as they were only “half-mourning”. There’s a play on this in the film in that she feels ‘half invited’.
“Demi Deuil means “Half-mourning”: they say that people who were not that close to the deceased would wear grey or purple as they were ‘half-mourning'”
Have you thought much about your own funeral?
Oh, it’s like an unfinished script that I keep editing and revisiting.
It might sound gruesome but in a way it’s funny. For over 5 years I’ve been hosting music banquets at home. I invite friends and ask them to bring two tracks they adore, so in a way, if all these friends died I would have their funeral playlists!
My personal funeral song would probably be Planet Claire by B52. A track that makes people feel like partying and remember me in a good way. I really want my funeral to be like a party. I’ve so many ideas, sometimes I think I would like to be a funeral MC to make funerals more lively. Death lacks life. Of course there is sadness or loss, but it’s also about sharing that person’s story and gathering all those people who cared about the same person but possibly never met.
“… sometimes I think I would like to be a funeral MC to make funerals more lively“
The all important question: Buried or cremated?
I think I do want to be cremated and have my ashes scattered in a beautiful place. I’d like to give the people I leave behind a place to go to grieve. We have a family crypt, but my mother refused to be buried with her mother-in-law, so she has her urn situated ‘upstairs’ like a separate studio apartment(!) I decorate the crypt with seashells and photographs,. It’s a lovely place to got to… but yes, I’d personally like to be cremated.
What I’d really LOVE to do, is make visual biographies for people. Film the places that person loves and capture important memorabilia which their loved ones can watch once they’re gone. We talk about death too late, when it’s all hospitals and despair. I don’t want to film people dying, I want to make video portraits of peoples favourite places, and things that make them feel happy.
“We talk about death too late, when it’s all hospitals and despair.”
You can find all of Xanaé’s films on youtube, collectively under THIS LINK
More About Xanaé:
Having studied film at Saint Denis University and scriptwriting at French film school, la FEMIS, Xanaé Bove has directed 10 short films and videos, at the edge of fiction and experimental, screened in many festivals and won prices, including Juliet Berto’s cup, to award cutting-edge films. She has just finished her first feature-film, Ex-TAZ- Citizen Ca$h (1987-1994), a documentary about the growth of a new cultural movement, taking over Paris. Xanaé is also journalist. She writes cinema reviews for Culturopoing and about society and off the wall characters for Gonzaï magazine.