Noël Loozen on film, flowers and fertility

Gardens with vibrant blossoms and blooming flowers are often metaphors for fertility or the growth of an exciting new conception. Where there is fertile ground, a planted seed and determination, Mother Nature will begin to work her magic—or, perhaps not. Dutch filmmaker Noël Loozen (HALAL) explores infertility as a theme in his short film Botanica. We visited him at his studio in Amsterdam where he shared his colourful inspirations and perspectives on flowers and plants throughout his work.

Hey Noël, let’s start with the synopsis for your short film Botanica.
Yes. I wrote the film with Joeri Kloppert. We wanted to create something about the fertility of a man, the working title was Sperm. The synopsis was about Twan, he’s a forty-year-old guy who works in a garden centre with his wife Anja. She has a wish to have a baby. Twan is okay with it – well, not necessarily. But he does it for his wife anyway. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work. He thinks he’s infertile. He’s playing with the thought that she’s gonna leave him, so he needs to do something to stop that from happening. It’s a sweet but awkward fairytale.

How did you choose the setting of suburban garden centre?
We thought of it from a western world point of view. Taking it back to where life started – that’s Adam and Eve’s Garden of Eden. (Well, some people think we were in the womb of a fish, but anyway…) Adam and Eve got a baby – or not, I thought. What if Adam was not fertile? That was the question. What would he do? We then translated the story to this century, to the 2000s – that’s the garden centre. The garden centre to me is somewhere where everything is in bloom, always. Everything that is not is immediately thrown away. The garden centre offers so many symbols and references to reproduction, seed packages and botanical flowers for instance. And at the same time, it’s an iconic location to represent artificiality.

I really like botanical gardens – that’s where the name Botanica came from. I wanted to give a feeling of humidity, like when you get inside a botanical garden and you get a little bit wet. There’s a heavy, somewhat choking feeling – that’s also what’s happening with our protagonist. He’s choking by his own thoughts almost. The garden centre is not a botanical garden, it’s pretending to be something that it’s not. It’s not so botanical at all, it’s actually very sad.

“Flowers represent life – and fun. They can be tacky and you can decorate things with them!”

The opening scene is colourful and vivid, successive scenes are stuck in a withering autumn. What’s the significance?

In a short film, you always have to establish things very quickly. We came up with a way to show that they’re trying a lot, we see them having a lot of sex. I came up with the idea of making a curtain of flowers in the title sequence. You get the ‘before and now’. Starting with the Garden of Eden which is very over the top, a bright, kitschy image. And now, everything looks dull, wet and with dead leaves. The whole film is meant to take you inside Twan’s feelings. In every film, I do this: I always represent the main characters, their world and how they perceive things.

How closely did you look at the language of flowers or flower types?
I was more paying attention to form of flowers because I’m not a biologist. I looked at flowers from an aesthetic point of view – their colours and shapes. Early in the film, I wanted everything to have a very erect look. Afterwards, it’s flaccid. What’s nice about botanical flowers is that they have a lot of colour. At the beginning, there’s a lot of colour but then extravagance fades.

It's not the first time we’ve seen flora in your work, your Dutch music video for André Hazes is also blossoming. Could you tell us about it?

André Hazes is a cult figure, to me and to a lot of people – he was one of the biggest stars in Holland. He died in 2004. The label Top Notch asked me to make a music video to re-release one of his last tracks made in 1980. It was an honour. I had contact with his wife and daughter and I made a treatment.

For me, flowers represent life – and fun. They can be tacky, and you can decorate things with them. Like my flower wagon (my car!). Hazes’s song was all about a guy who sells flowers, or that’s what I made of it. As a young boy, I was always stealing flowers from other people’s gardens to give to my mother. With that in mind, I depicted a guy who decides that the only important woman in his life is his mom – so he dresses his car with hundreds of flowers, all for her.

Photography Guus Kaandorp © Let it Grow

Where does your love for plants and flowers come from?
Well, they are our natural surroundings. You never want to answer a question with ‘I just think they’re beautiful,’ [said with closed eyes and a big smile]. But it’s true, flowers and plants give me a free feeling. [Looks around] Imagine this room without plants, it would be a boring room. In a way, flowers and plants are art objects, created by nature. It’s just like that.

I really like artist Wim T. Schippers, he has very fun work. He once made a peanut butter floor, a really big one. A lot of the time people are like ‘What the fuck?’ When he showed at the Stedelijk someone asked him, “But why did you do that?” He responded, “If you look at a tree, you might say, beautiful… But you wouldn’t ask ‘What is it supposed to be?’ That’s an odd question. Or what is it about?” The tree is, just because it is. I thought that was really nice. I’ll always remember how he used nature to make the point. A lot of things just go how they go.

Will you continue to make use of plants and flowers in future works?

Yes, of course. Right now I’m actually thinking about my next film. I’ve been thinking about a guy I met who is a ‘boswachter’, someone who protects the forests. He told me some interesting facts about wolves passing the Dutch borders and how a protocol is necessary to deal with them – which I find very interesting when comparing it to us humans crossing borders. The setting should be in a forest, with a lot of nature. Another of my recent films called Limburgia ends with a palm tree and a sunflower. It looks at grief and how flowers are used as ‘thank you’ or ‘sorry’ symbols, which I think is fascinating as well.

“Flowers and plants are art objects, created by nature."

Finally, if you could live life as a flower, what type of flower would you be?
Well, to begin with here’s a flower I wouldn’t want to be. [He’s showing a picture of a Lotus Flower seed pod]. This flower gives me goosebumps – I get sweaty hands, I cannot look at this! I do however remember some beautiful flowers that I saw on my trip to Patagonia. Lady Slippers. They’re very nice, they look cosy – like you could take a nap inside.

I’m also thinking about Monet’s water lilies at Musée de l’Orangerie. It’s not macho but it’s impressive, the display is huge, you stand there and look around – it really struck me. I’d think I’d be a water lily, they’re in the water but they can move around, they’re together with others and they go with the flow.

Thanks, Noël. Bye bye!