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Short Film


Rutger Hauer and Erik Lieshout


Running Time: 10'

Main Cast:
Rutger Hauer - Harry
Mattijn Hartemink - The Young Harry

Erik Lieshout, from the short story by Harry Mulisch

Awards and Nominations:
2001 - 16th Festival du Film de Paris "Carte Noire" Award as Best Short Film in competition

A man explains how he was obsessed when he was younger by a mysterious room and an extraordinary rarefied piano music that drifted through its open window during the night. Forty years later, returning to his home town after having spent most of his life abroad, in "a bunch of different places", he asks one of his friends to rent a room for him.

As chance would have it, it turns out to be the same room which attracted him when he was a young man. What drew him again to this room?...

"The Room", a poetic thriller, is based on the first novel written by Harry Mulisch, a famous Dutch writer, when he was only 19. This black & white, 10-minute-long film is Rutger's directing début - he co-directed it with Erik Lieshout. But Rutger had already shown his directing skills in his theater years, when he directed and adapted for stage various plays.
Talking about "The Room", he declared, "It's a very beautiful story. It is exciting too, to see if it's possible to translate this ultra-short novel into film. Every role has something. Little things you can try. You always learn something".

"The Room"'s world premiere took place at the 2000 Nederlands Film Festival of Utrecht, in the Rembrandt Theater, on September 26. Its screenings gathered a lot of enthusiastic comments from audiences and critics as well. In the near future.

In April 2001 it won the Carte Noire Award at the 16th Festival du Film de Paris, as Best Short Film in competition.

Rutger with Erik and Harry

Erik Lieshout was born in 1961. He is also director and program-maker for the Dutch TV channel VPRO and producer for Outcast Pictures.
Amongst his most important films, we can mention "Céline, reis naar het einde van de nacht" (1983), "Kost/Baten" (1989), "Een baby" (1991), "Kantoorbediende" (1991), "Telefoontjes" (1991), "Vacatureberg" (1991), "Regrets" (1998). Erik also makes commercials and is a very talented screenplay writer.

Erik Lieshout

As far as "The Room" is concerned, Erik says that he was really touched by this short story, because even though it is very simple, it carries a profound, universal meaning.

On the set

Harry Mulisch was born on the 29th of July 1927 to an Austro-Hungarian father and an Antwerp-born Jewish mother. He has built up an impressive oeuvre of novels, stories, essays, poetry, dramas and philosophical works, in his own unique intriguing and compelling style. In 1977 he received the P.C. Hooft Prize and the Constantijn Huygens Prize for his work as a whole. In 1992 Mulisch had many good reasons to celebrate: his sixty-fifth birthday, the completion and publication of the most substantial novel of his career, "De ontdekking van de hemel" ("The Discovery of Heaven") and the publication of the 500,000th Dutch copy of his international best seller "De aanslag" ("The Assault"). In 1997 Mulisch celebrated his seventieth birthday with the publication of his collected novels in one cassette, with unanimous praise from all over the world for "De ontdekking van de hemel" (of which more than 300,000 copies have been sold in Germany, and over 250,000 in the Netherlands to date).

Rutger with Harry

Rutger's Notes:
What is most curious to me is that the whole 9 minutes are all in flasback. Can only be done on film. Let's examine the timefactor. It appears that the real time is the time when "Harry" answers questions from someone we never see. Ha. Who? The next timedifference. Is of course "Young Harry" divided in the moments he remembers coming back and the moment he remembers his first love. Then there is the "Voice Over" time. The time when "Harry" tells the story. But the only REAL time moment is the last shot which was shot as the idea of "Harry" just flying through the empty room after he has died. Who knows when.

The "dachshund" was Harry Mulisch's favourite dog. I had asked him for a picture because I knew he loved it dearly. The "first love" had never been scripted but came up while we were shooting. Our costume-designer had been a model but was very shy about it. I got the idea just by having an off-camera chat. Asked her if she was open to it. Just one shot. No talking. It took a bit of convincing because she had burnt out on being photographed. And I think she really "clicks" into a very warm moment.

The way of"Harry's" not so well being had to be addressed so carefully. So we had tiny pieces of information distributed here and there. Which were thrown away but would add up. I hated the ambulance because as a visual it is way stronger in symbolism. The only trick that was built in was the mirror. The fact that he observes it in that mirror makes it less direct. A small detail about that kind of mirror is that it was attached to upperfloor so people could "spy" who was ringing the doorbell down below. But also for older, less abled people just to watch what was going on in the street. Very Dutch.

What I also love very very much is that the story starts with leaves and ends in the leaves on the other side of the building. Such a nice rounded circle.

Things like waiting for some wind in the curtains (like the spirit of something) and the wineglass which actually made the presence more believable of the people who used to live there. "I felt abandonned by people i didn't know." A line I came up with, which still chills me because of its loneliness.

The sun breaking through the clouds in the opening shot .It was TAKE TWO. With a huge crane. Lots of technical stuff. None of these shots were ever the same. Since I worked with Vittorio Storaro on LADYHAWKE I remembered Storaro waiting until the sun would be about to come out of the clouds. I said. Let's see if we can do it. Because of it the shot has a touch of god's hand and what's even better - because the crane was going through the leaves - one leaf fell to earth as it turned. Almost as gently saying to the viewer: "This sweet young man is our hero!"

One of the first things Erik and myself totally agreed on was that sound was just as important in its "concerto" as the actual filmed frames. For instance - a tiny detail I had to fight for - the wet broom on the street. It was never anywhere in the story but I knew that I wanted that sound if it would make any sense. IF we could show this once (and by the way it is so Dutch to clean the little space once a week in front of your house) I might be able to bring it back later as a small intrusion somewhere. We decided against bringing it back because less was stronger on many fronts here. And less also enhanced the silence, isolation, simplicity, and lonelyness. The other thing we decided in the beginning was the screenformat. ANAMORPHIC is the widest format there is and we were only able to do it because Erik knew of some Russian lenses which had the sharpest black and white. And we got them. The decision was partly just because we both love that format. It's mostly chosen because the filmmakers want to show more. We choose it because we wanted its lack of showing anything. Or it would be emptyness. In the short story by Mulisch the fact that "Harry suddenly got mysteriously ill" hangs like a sword of Damocles over the story's head. It works there. And has a certain cruel harshness. For the film we felt that is was more interesting to "search" for the little mysteries' heart. It was not that important for us that he would die. It was important that he finds out. One small funny detail concerning shower scene. It was a freezing cold day as we started to shoot this scene.So we had arranged for a waterheater to be on the safe side. We lost a bit of time setting it up. We rehearsed everything except the showering. On the take I jumped in after the water was running and almost got burned. It was steaming hot. We had to wait for the water to cool off. Because it had been heated as well as stored in a tank. Anyway. That would take an hour or so. We continued shooting other things and as the last shot we returned to this itty bitty shot. They assured me we'd be fine now. On action I stepped in. This time the water was ok. It was not that warm. I mean it was colder than any water I have ever felt. Like 40F. Mostly because the tank was outside and it was freezing. The reason why I'm telling you this is that the acting is so good because it is so hardly even there. I've said it before. That's what i like most about the piece. It is a very close shave. Close to the skin.

One thing I also like is telling a story from the past from the perspective of a different, older, wiser man. As you know history is history and it happened just in one way. The facts remain the same. History has become a rather rigid truth. Our hearts and minds move on and years later we find that our perspective and the way we feel has changed. Part of this distance creates the possibillity to view it with more honest humour. The distant point of view makes us less attached and less serious. The event have turned somewhat into a little dance. In this story the main character's voice (when off camera) is the older Harry and he phrases certain sentences which the younger Harry would have never said that way. The WINEGLASS half filled I put there to give some proof of a real life going on because the voice-over speaks of the fact that he doubts his observation during the daytime but at nightime the music is real. And the wineglass. Half full and half empty. It's not just books. And maybe he or she will come and pick up the glass and take another sip and greet the man outside etc. And last. The music. I interpret the music as a vibration coming from the future... It maybe a new tenant. It maybe the music belonging to the moment of truth. Or to the room. Of course I say that because he searches in the past to find it. What is even better for me is that the music, as the rest of the little story, has the lightness and light of a new discovery. And it feels and sounds good. Almost in harmony with itself at the end.


The Room (click on this link)

Rutger's Video Comments:

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