Martin Koolhoven’s talks about the BRIMSTONE


BRIMSTONE is a triumphant epic of survival set in the searing wilds of the Badlands, the menacing inferno of the  old  American West.  A tale of powerful womanhood and resistance  against  the  unforgiving cruelty of  a  hell  on earth.  Our heroine is Liz, carved from the beautiful wilderness, full of heart and grit, hunted by a vengeful Preacher – a diabolical zealot and her twisted nemesis. But Liz is a genuine survivor; she’ s no victim –  a woman of fearsome strength who responds with astonishing bravery to claim the better life she and her daughter deserve. Fear not. Retribution is coming.

Martin Koolhoven graduated from the Amsterdam Film Academy as a writer/director. His breakthrough in The Netherlands came in 1999 with Suzy Q, which was also the debut of Brimstone-actress Carice van Houten. His first movies received good reviews and won awards, but it wasn’t until 2005 that Martin started making movies that also did well at the box office. Schnitzel Paradise was his first hit (biggest box receipts of all Dutch movies in 2005); it won awards and did well at festivals (including the Berlin Film Festival and the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, where it was part of the Variety Critics’ choice.). His biggest success, however, was Oorlogswinter/Winter in Wartime (his fourth hit movie in a row). It was a phenomenal box office hit in Holland (it out grossed Twilight and The Dark Knight at Dutch theaters) and was sold to many countries abroad. It made the shortlist of 9 movies at the Oscars (Best Foreign Language Film) and was successfully released by Sony Classics in the USA in 2011. Despite “Hollywood calling”, Koolhoven decided to form N279 Entertainment together with his producer Els Vandevorst. Brimstone is his first international film. Koolhoven’s work has won awards in the Netherlands, France, England, Lithuania, Egypt, Suriname, Japan, Uruguay, Italy, Spain and the Czech Republic.

Bijan Tehrani: Why did you choose a certain time for this film and not use modern time for it?
Martin Koolhoven: Well, to be completely honest, what happened was, the last movie was quite successful and what happens then is Hollywood starts calling, and the thing was I had done so many Dutch movies and now I had to start working in English. So they started sending me scripts, there was just nothing that I found interesting, I didn’t like what they were sending, so what happened was, I think I had a discussion with someone, I think it was an American producer, and he said ‘Ok, if you want to do an English spoken movie, what is it you want to do?’ And I sort of joked, ‘a Western!’ because at this point the Western was dead, this was before even Tarantino announced “Django: Unchained.” So I said, ‘I’ll do a Western,’ and he said back, ‘then why don’t you?’ And that sort of started me thinking, ‘Why don’t I?’ because I’ve always been in love with the genre. So I decided to write myself a script, and it was always the idea from the start, it was more like an outside inside, outwards in type of thing actually. So, I had to go in and think, what is it I like about the Western? What is it I actually that I- Why am I so much in love with it? And that I felt also I wanted to be original and I wanted to do something in such an American genre, and a genre in which there have been so many masterpieces made, I felt that the only way to do this was to do something very personal, which also has ground one foot in my growing up experience. So if I was going to do something American, I felt there should be a connection to Holland, which is where I’m from, and that became that Dutch religion, the Calvinist action. So when I, those ideas, because as I said, what is so interesting about the Western? And I came up with very boyish thing, this thing that you think, ok there’s whole of land and there is opportunity and this almost anarchistic world which is very intriguing, I guess especially to men, but then I realized that it wasn’t maybe so appealing to women so I decided to write for a female character and have it be from a female perspective and have it be about a strong woman also, and this religious belief, and as I was writing it I felt also there was a strong connection to modern society with religious fanaticism which is still very relevant. So, that’s sort of how I got to writing.

B.T. : When I watch the film, I was thinking ‘oh my god,’ if Ingmar Bergman had made a Western it should have looked like this.
M.K. : I can understand that, he also comes from of course Northern Europe, so I assume that’s what, there is also a Calvinistic culture in Scandinavia, so I guess that’s why maybe you felt like that.

B.T.: This film has this kind of magic in storytelling that it comes from the dark nights and also has that dark side to it, so it makes it a very very powerful film, interesting film, what do you think the impact on it in the US market?
M.K.: I know for instance that it would be a controversial piece, because you know when you write something like this you know that it’s- I was so surprised when the movie was so well received in Holland. It was, I only got rave reviews, and uh… in France I get fantastic reviews, but when it came out, I was in competition in Venice and some of the American reviews where mixed… I think when you do something which is… What happens in the movie is that there is violence in it, and there’s sexual violence and that gets motivated through religion, there’s the reverend, who plays a complete religious zealot and a fanatic, and if you mix those things, it’s a dangerous cocktail. Not everybody in America would like that. I there are very few people who like that, but I guess I’m going against some very tough criticism for it, but I’m happy to take anything. I’m very proud of the movie.

B.T. : Tell us a little bit about the casting, how did you pick the cast?
M.K. : Well, the first one I picked was the reverend, which was Guy Pearce, and I’ve always been in love with him as an actor and I though I had just got somebody from that scene to play something that was more closer to himself – very stupid and amateur of me to think that, but I didn’t think about it that well. But then I saw LA Confidential, which is of course a fantastic movie, but he was brilliant in it but so different, I couldn’t believe it was the same guy. So I’ve been following ever since and I really like how he transforms himself, physically and also in terms of accents and all those things, he really goes into character. So, when I’d written this character, and I thought who should I ask, and we asked him and I was very happy that he loved the script, and it was his idea to do the Dutch accent, it was wonderful working with him. And Dakota was of course, I knew I needed somebody who, because she plays the main character, it had to be somebody who was good at conveying ire and emotions without needing the dialogue, and Dakota is very good with her eyes, she can do everything with it. And she was an absolute wonder to work with, when she started working she was six years old, when we started shooting she was twenty-one and I’ve never experienced someone who was so knowledgeable about what I was doing, for everything about the camera. I’m sure she’s going to direct at some point, because I mean nine out of ten times I would walk up to her after a take and she would say, okay I understand, she knew exactly what I wanted, and I think she gives her best performance ever, she’s fantastic. Kit of course, originally it was the plan that I was going to use Robert Patterson, but then the agent of Kit Hartington contacted us and said he really wanted to do it, and we said sorry we already have cast Robert Patterson already, then Robert had to pull out and I was very happy that Kit was willing to come back from his vacation to film this, he’s a wonderful guy, he’s a fantastic actor – yeah, it’s, I’ve been very lucky, I have a very good casting director, which was Ben Hamilton, very happy with how the cast turned out.

BRIMSTONE is now in theaters and On Demand / Digital HD


About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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