The Belgian filmmaker spoke to us about her feminist comedy following in the footsteps of a model employee who turns serial killer.
We made the most of the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival to meet Belgian director Véronique Jadin who was there to present her debut feature film Employee of the Month [+], a vitriol-filled feminist comedy about the patriarchy’s influence in the business world, following in the footsteps of a model employee who turns serial killer.
Cineuropa: How did this project come about?
Véronique Jadin: I’d just read Dirty Weekend, a brilliant English novel by Helen Zavahi, telling the story of a young woman who’s terrified by a man who’s harassing her, until a therapist advises her to arm herself with a knife. And then all of a sudden, it all came together in my mind: the idea for the film came to me as if it had been buried somewhere in my mind, ready and waiting, and this trigger brought it up to surface. I think I was ready, and it was all bubbling up inside of me. I think I was really pumped! It’s probably got something to do with a fact which struck me when I was reading King Kong Theory, where Virginie Despentes says that when she was being attacked one night, she was secretly hoping that he wouldn’t steal her knife rather than realising she could actually use her knife as a weapon. That haunted me for a long time. It gave me the idea for a comedy with a political basis, the story of a woman who realises that she can have power over events, a story about empowerment.
It’s also a satire about the world of work.
We were limited by heavy budgetary – and, therefore, production – constraints, and as I was an assistant director, I knew that restricting ourselves to one setting would be a good idea. I wanted to set the story in an office because power relations fascinate me and it’s a place where all different kinds of domination unfold.
Who are the film’s heroines?
Inès is a girl who does everything really well in life. She’s well-coiffed, well-dressed. A woman who spends her time controlling every aspect of her appearance, who always want to do good, to do more, without any kind of recognition. Inès isn’t a killer, so to speak, she’s a kind person. I wanted the first death to happen by accident. And her initian instinct is to clean the crime scene – she’s conditioned.
The character of Mélody, the daughter of the company’s former black cleaner, came to me quickly in the writing process. She raises other issues: latent racism in the business world and in wider society. My co-screenwriter Nina Vanspranghe and I thought it was important to show that Inès is also unwittingly affected by her own racist bias, and sexist bias too, in fact.
Is comedy a risky choice for a first film?
I initially wrote some pretty sinister pieces, about grief and illness. But I couldn’t help myself, there was always a little joke to be made. I’d love to make sweeping political sagas one day, but for now, comedy is coming out on top. I think it’s got something to do with self-confidence and legitimacy. We’re not really film buffs in my family, but we did watch a lot of comedies. Clearly, being boring is a real crime, the worst thing you can be as a filmmaker. And it’s true, it has to be said, that comedy is hard to read and to write. It was definitely a stumbling block when it came to commissions, for example.
It’s funny, I thought about Chantal Akerman and Jeanne Dielman the other day, when thinking about a female serial killer fighting against the patriarchy… But it’s true that I don’t have many references when it comes to women directors making comedy. Not because they don’t interest me, but because production and funding drivers don’t encourage women filmmakers in this direction, they tend to re-direct them towards intimate dramas bordering on romantic comedies. What’s funny (or not so much!) is that I’ve been touring lots of genre film festivals with this movie, and I’m finding myself surrounded by men, in terms of the festival organisers, the directors invited, and the audience. I never thought I’d find myself there with a feminist comedy!