Today we are joined by writer and director Hans Herbots in order to talk about his new film The Treatment which has been cutting a great swathe of critical praise throughout the country and the world. This dark story about crime, punishment and resolution draws from classic crime thrillers as well as Belgium’s history and the Hayder novel on which it is based. Read on for our interview…
Can you first just introduce The Treatment to our readers?
The Treatment is an adaptation of the novel The Treatment by Mo Hayder. It is a dark story about a policeman who is trying to find peace with events that happened in his past while solving a case that forces him to go back to that past. A story about closing. But above all, a very intriguing and thrilling story, that will have you on the edge of your seat during 120 minutes.
How did you first become attached to the project? What was it about the film that caused you to want to sit down in the director’s chair?
I was shooting The Spiral in Copenhagen when I got a call from producer Peter Bouckaert. He and writer Carl Joos had been working on the project for quite some time, and they were looking for the right director for the film. I read the script, starting in the evening, finishing somewhere in the middle of the night. I liked it a lot, because it was a page turner, and because I was attracted to Nick Cafmeyer, the main character. To the way that he struggles with what happened to him in the past, and how he tried to live on without much success. How he tried to deal with that. And what he had to do to be able to move on with his life. And also, one of the themes of the film is how abuse creates not only victims, but also new perpetrators. How it actually never stops. That is something I wanted people to think about as well.
To what degree do you refer to the novel/strike out on your own with an adaptation like this?
When you adapt a novel, you always change a lot, without touching the core of the story. It’s like tearing down a house stone by stone, and rebuilding it somewhere else, stone by stone. But to condense the story, one has to make choices. Several characters in the novel become one character in the film. Especially the female characters around Nick, they are different in the novel. In adapting, you try to get rid of everything that does not support the main storyline. So some additional storylines from the novel did not make it into the film. And the ending of the story, that’s always a tricky one. Because telling a story with images is very different from telling the same story with words.
I wanted the viewer to be as close as possible to the main character. To really make the journey with him. So the camera does not leave him for one second. That creates a very intense experience. And to understand his anger, to understand what drives him, I found it necessary to show what he sees, what he his fighting against, what haunts him. That’s why I tried to take it to the border -without crossing it.
Were you ever concerned that it would push a certain percentage of your potential audience away?
As a filmmaker, you don’t think about the audience while creating. You think of the story, and how you feel it should be told. Of course, I did not want to shock people, or push them away too much – so in a way, you do think about them! But still, if you tell a story like this, you have to be as authentic as possible. And that makes it intense. I knew this was not going to be a feelgood movie, but an interesting journey for those who are willing to step into it.
What research did you have to undertake in preparation for The Treatment?
We talked a lot with psychiatrists working with patients who had to deal with loss in their life. With people disappearing. And we researched how victims of abuse are trying to deal with the abuse, how it keeps steering their life. Apart from that, a lot of research was done by Mo Hayder when she was working on the novel. I talked a lot with her about the characters in the book.
Of course there are echoes of the Belgian paedophile scandal here twenty years on, how did you make sure you stayed sensitive to that? Did you consciously take steps to ensure that you weren’t being exploitative?
Not being exploitative was very important to me. I wanted this film to be as authentic as possible. That is why apart from Geert Van Rampelberg, I did not want to work with famous Belgian actors. I chose actors from the theatre, good actors, to keep the focus on the story. Now that the Dutroux scandal is almost twenty years ago, there is no direct link anymore when you fictionalise it. But on the other hand, it has become part of our collective memory, so people are still sensitive to that.
Let’s see what happens with Jack here in the UK these next weeks….
What sort of filmmaking do you want to do in the future? Are there certain areas you want to go to?
I like these intense stories, told in an open way for a broad audience. As they tell us something about life, without you noticing it. I like the action thriller genre, with an edge of darkness. As a director, I like to implement a strong visual style on a project, in function of the story. I love to be involved in an early stage, to work together with the producer and a scriptwriter on the script, so that we all know exactly which story we want to tell and to make it as strong as possible. And I love to work with actors, to push them, to guide them, to comfort them -just to bring them to a place they might not have been before. Life is all about connecting with people, and by telling the stories we like, that’s exactly what we do -that’s why I love filmmaking so much.
And that’s all folks! The Treatment opens on the 21st, let us know whether you plan on checking it out in the comment box below!