N – The Madness of Reason

World premiere at this year’s Berlinale FORUM

A film by Peter Krüger
B-D-NL 2014 / 110′ / DCP / 1:1,85

N tells the story of an uncommon obsession: Beyond death, an encyclopaedian attempts to accomplish his life’s work.

Hovering between dream and reality, the film plays, in a both visually and musically striking way on the confrontation of European ideology and African spirituality,

N recounts the story of the Frenchman Raymond Borremans, who left cold Europe for Africa in the beginning of the 20th century. He devoted his life to the creation of the first encyclopaedia of this other world, dreaming of eternal recognition. He died, however, having only reached the letter N.

His restless spirit now drifts around West Africa, caught between life and death, past and present. An African woman who helps restless spirits find peace tries to lead him towards his destiny.

When confronted with civil war at Cote d’Ivoire, he is disappointed, shattered and thrown by the development of the country. His encyclopaedic mind – bent on drawing borders, on definitions and categorizations – finds the contingencies of reality less easy to cope with. When reduced to practice, the encyclopedic idea loses its innocence. Yet Borremans’ spirit yearns to complete his unfinished task…

N is a truly striking film; an audio-visual symphony of great narrative complexity that turns on the reason and the madness that inspired Borremans’ monumental project.

N explores real and imagined barriers between the visible and the invisible, the tangible and the dwindling, word and image, documentary and fiction.

The film by Peter Krüger is a Belgian-German-Dutch co-production.

N – Madness of Reason: download press brochure

CREDITS

Writer and Director Peter Krüger
Cinematopgraher Rimvydas Leipus
Text Ben Okri
Editor Nico Leunen
Music Walter Hus
Vocals Fatoumata Diawara
Sound Ludo Van Pachterbeke
Benoit Bruwier
Camera Assistents Olivier Martin
Veroni Landers
Steadicam Jules Debrock
Grip Thierry Kafando
Dieuwert Vandekerckhove
Sounddesign & mix Alex Booy & Huybert Boon
Lineproducers Wim Steeman
Vincent ‘T Sas
Philip Albert Schrooten
Postproduction manager Jules Debrock
Grading Veerle Zeelmaekers
Graphic Design Amira Daoudi
CAST
Narrator Michael Lonsdale
African woman Wendyam Sawadogo
Musician Vieux Farka Toure
Fool Hamadou Kassonge
Production Inti Films – Peter Krüger
Blinker Filmproduktion – Meike Martens
Cobra Films – Daniel de Valck
Dieptescherpte – Jos de Putter
Mollywood
ZDF in cooperation with Arte – Martin Pieper
Developed with the support of The MEDIA Programme of the Europan Union
Produced with the support of Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds
Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie – Bruxelles
Nederlands Film Fonds
Taxshelter of the  Belgian Federal Government
EURIMAGES
In collaboration with Canvas Sabam

RAYMOND BORREMANS

N is inspired by the life of Raymond Borremans, a Frenchman who left Europe in his twenties to travel in Africa. Borremans’ life story is both fascinating and mysterious. On January 1 1929, at the age of twenty-three, a failed love affair provoked a radical decision: he was to leave cold Europe for another, far less civilized world. He started his fifty-year journey making a living as a one-man band for the colonial settlers in Africa. Later he set up a mobile cinema and was one of the first to take the magic of the cinema and pictures of Europe to the African people. This enabled him to continue his peregrinations in Africa until the arrival of television in 1974 rendered this activity superfluous. It was during his long, solitary journeys in West Africa that he began dreaming of his magnificent encyclopaedia. Borremans then started collecting all documents he could find, with the aim of summing up the African continent in twenty-six letters.

His efforts reflect the spirit of modernity in its most extreme form. In him we see the encyclopaedic spirit of the Enlightenment at work, a spirit that wants nothing more than to name, describe and order the world in an objective way. The four volumes of his that were published are much more than a mere encyclopaedia: these books are his life. Putting them together was his way of giving a comprehensible form to his personal experience of the world.

The question is: what formed his character? What motivates a man to scrutinize a country and culture with such an obsessive eye? What unrest or fear lies hidden beneath this urge to classify? Isn’t this approach to the world antithetical to the reality that is seeing, feeling and experiencing?

When Raymond died more than half a century later in the Ivory Coast, only the volumes up to the letter N had been published. Shortly after his death a strange event occurred: a woman cast a spell on him. Standing on his grave she shouted: ‘Because you never showed gratitude, your spirit will never rest!’.  It is this peculiar biographical occurrence that provided the narrative line of the film. Cursed to wander for eternity, Borremans’ spirit drifts around West Africa seeking to understand himself and the unsettled world around him, desperate to complete his unfinished work.

The meaning of the title N is also to be found here: the film N is in part an investigation into this typically Western mentality. The cinematographic approach used in N aims to unravel the complex and layered relationship that exists between European and African ways of thinking and being.

DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT

Raymond Borremans’ life is both fascinating and mysterious, but N is not intended to be a filmed narrative of his story. My aim as a writer and director was not to make a biopic, but to use the biography of this unusual character to unravel a certain mentality; a way of thinking and behaving that is particularly representative of Western ideals.

The film can be described as an audio-visual quest to understand the remarkable and complex encounter of a European man and the African continent. The film uses this story to probe the relationship that exists between the two cultures, and how this has shaped their destinies.

In N the exploration of this relationship begins with an encounter between Borremans’ invisible spirit and an African woman who is able to see and speak to him. Borremans wonders if he is dreaming her or if she is dreaming him. Into whose story has he been drawn? The viewer is led on an epic journey around the African continent with the drifting  spirit. The film in a way becomes a lyrical travelogue, winding back and forth through time and space. Borremans struggles to draw meaning from what he sees. He is drawn into regions he is unfamiliar with and towards experiences that force him to question his presuppositions. The film is therefore full of potential, the viewer led through the same processes of doubt and questioning as the spirit. As Ben Okri described it: ‘The film is not a straight line. It is a river, with twists and curves.’

The aim of Borremans’ life was to objectify and systematize African reality, but as a spirit he is forced to enter a world which cannot be reduced to facts and figures. The film presents a subjective experience of reality which is penetrated by a world of imagination, dreams, emotions, stories and poetry.

The meaning of the title N is also to be found here: the letter ‘N’ forms the literal boundary of Borremans’ obsessive objectification of man and culture. At ‘N’ the descriptions stop and the un-catalogued images reign supreme. It is here that Borremans’ carefully classified world has to give way to the transient life of dance and song.

It is this tension between word and image, fiction and documentary, reflection and experience that I aim to capture in this film, which explores the real and imagined boundaries between the visible and the invisible, the tangible and the evanescent.

PETER KRÜGER – WRITER & DIRECTOR

Peter Krüger (writer, director and producer, born 1970, Belgium) became obsessed with the cinema at a young age. He postponed going to film school, however, to study philosophy. After graduating in 1993 Krüger skipped film school once more, and instead set up the production company Inti Films, which focuses on the production of creative documentaries and art-house films for an international market.

Although Krüger’s inspiration originally came from fiction, his first projects were documentaries. As he stated: ‘documentary provided an immediate starting point, a way to discover cinematography via the documentary process.’

Krüger’s first creative documentary Nazareth (1997) looked at faith in villages bearing this name in Israel, Ghana and Flanders. Since then he has written and directed documentaries including Poets of Mongolia, Roberte’s Dance, The Eclipse of Sint-Gillis and a short fiction film entitled The Strange Man. Two of Krüger’s documentaries were directed for the ARTE-series Kaleidoscope and produced by Wajnbrosse production.

Krüger decision to explore the limits of fiction and documentary took off in 2011 with his first feature-length documentary-fiction, entitled Antwerp Central. In this film Krüger’s contemplation on the cultural, historical and symbolic life of Antwerp’s Central Station creatively blends archival footage, documentary and performance. Antwerp Central was selected for numerous festivals and won the Grand Prize at the International Festival of Films on Art in Montreal. Since 2005 Krüger has been working on his first cinematographic combination of documentary and fiction, N, and his first feature film: Continental Drift.

Krüger teaches Film Directing at the RITS in Brussels and is script consultant for various feature films. He has been a member of the General Assembly and the Advisory Body of the Flemish Filmfund since 2003.

Selected Filmography

Antwerp Central Station (documentary, 2011)

N, (play for theatre, 2006)

The Monastery Of Beniktbeuern (documentary, 2004)

Les Thermes de Karlovy Vary (documentary, 2003)

The Strange Man (short fiction film, 2002)

The Eclipse of Sint-Gillis (creative documentary, 2011)

Poets of Mongolia (creative documentary, 1999)

Nazareth (creative documentary, 1997)

BEN OKRI – WRITER

Ben Okri (writer, born 1959, Minna, Nigeria) has published nine novels, including ‘The Famished Road trilogy’ and ‘Starbook’ as  well as several books of poems, essays and short stories. He won the Booker Prize for fiction in 1991. His work has been translated into more than twenty five languages. He was Fellow Commoner of creative arts at Trinity College, Cambridge. He has been a journalist, broadcaster, poetry editor, and a board member of the National Theatre, London. He has written plays and a film script.  A fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he has been awarded the OBE as well as numerous international prizes, including the Premio Grinzane Cavour, the Commonwealth Writers prize for Africa, the Paris Review Aga Khan prize for fiction, and the Premio Chianti Ruffino Antico Fattore.  He is a vice-president of the English Centre for International PEN, and was presented with the Crystal Award by the World Economic Forum.  He is a recipient of numerous honorary doctorates. He was born in Nigeria, where he witnessed the civil war, and lives in London. 

His latest collection of poems,’Wild,’ is published by Random House.

Titles

Flowers and Shadows (1980)

The Landscapes Within (1982)

Incidents at the Shrine (1986)

Stars of the New Curfew (1988)

The Famished Road (1991)

African Elegy (1992)

Songs of Enchantment – Book Two of The Famished Road Trilogy (1993)

Astonishing the Gods (1995)

Dangerous Love (1996)

Birds of Heaven (1996)

A Way of Being Free (1997)

Infinite Riches – Book Three of The Famished Road Trilogy (1998)

Mental Fight (1999)

In Arcadia (2002)

Starbook (2007)

Tales of Freedom (2009)

A Time For New Dreams (2011)

Wild (2012)

MICHAEL LONSDALE  – NARRATOR

Michael Lonsdale (born May 24, 1931), sometimes billed as Michel Lonsdale, is a French actor who has appeared in over 180 films and television shows.

Lonsdale was born in Paris and raised by a French mother and an English father, initially on the island of Guernsey, then in London in 1935, and later, during the Second World War, in Casablanca, Morocco. He moved to Paris to study painting in 1947 but was drawn into the world of acting instead, first appearing on stage at the age of 24.

Lonsdale is bilingual and is in demand for English-language and French productions. He is best known in the English-speaking world for his roles as the villainous Sir Hugo Drax in the 1979 James Bond film, “Moonraker”, the astute French detective Lebel in The Day of the Jackal, and M. Dupont d’Ivry in “The Remains of the Day”. He also had a significant participation in the film “Munich” directed by Steven Spielberg. On 25 February 2011, he won a César Award, his first, for best supporting actor in “Of Gods and Men” (“Les Hommes et les Dieux”).

RIMVYDAS LEIPUS – CINEMATOGRAPHER

Rimvydas Leipus (cinematographer, Vilnius, 1960) trained as a cinematographer at the Russian Film Institute VGIK where he obtained his degree in Direction of Photography and Camera in 1992.  Since then he has shot numerous fiction and documentary films which have been screened at festivals in Venice, Cannes and Berlin, not to mention many other international events. His most notable partnership was with the Lithuanian director Sharunas Bartas. They worked together on a number of widely acclaimed films including The House, The Corridor and Freedom. He has received many awards, including the award for Best Cinematography in the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival 2012 for his work on The House with the Turret, directed by Eva Neymann.

Selected Filmography

Dom S Bashenkoy, dir. Eva Neymann (2012)

Antwerpen Centraal, dir. Peter Krüger (documentary, 2011)

Farwell (2010)

Khadak (2006)

La Fine Del Mare, dir. Nora Hoppe (2005)

Freedom, dir. Sharunas Bartas (2000)

Courtyard, dir. Valdas Navasaitis (1999)

The House, dir. Sharunas Bartas (1997)

The Corridor, dir. Sharunas Bartas (1994)

Earth Of Blind, dir. Audrius Stonys (documentary, 1991)

Ten Minutes Before The Flight Of Icarus, dir. Arunas Matelis (documentary, 1990)

NICO LEUNEN – EDITOR

Nico Leunen (born 1974, Antwerp, Belgium) graduated in 1998 from Sint-Lukas in Brussels with a Masters degree in Audio-Visual Arts. In 2000 Leunen edited a feature-length digital film, the first Belgian digital film of the sort to be edited using Apple’s first version of Final Cut Pro. Leunen’s experimental background and strong preference for art-house cinema has resulted in collaborations with some of Belgium’s finest screenwriters and directors including Jan Lauwers, Felix Van Groeningen, Fien Troch, Nicolas Provost, Alex Stockman, Brosens, Woodworth and Peter Krüger. Leunen teaches editing at various film schools in Brussels. He is now considered one of Belgium’s most significant film editors.

Selected Filmography

Kid, dir. Fien Troch (2012)

The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012 )

Lena (2011)

The Invader (2011)

Antwerpen Centraal, dir. Peter Krüger (2011)

22 Mei (2010)

Altiplano, dirs. Brosens & Woodworth (2009)

De helaasheid der dingen (2009)

Dirty Mind (2009)

Linkeroever (2008)

Khadak, dirs. Brosens & Woodworth (2006)

Dagen zonder liefde (2006)

Verlengd weekend, dir. Hans Herbots (2005)

Een ander zijn geluk, dir. Fien Troch (2005)

Steve + Sky, dir. Felix Van Groeningen (2003)

WALTER HUS – COMPOSER

Walter Hus (composer, born 1959, Belgium) started his career as a pianist with a great talent for improvisation. He wrote his first compositions for the band Maximalist!, a group of composers and musicians closely involved with the emerging Belgian theatre and dance scene of the 1980s (De Keersmaeker, Vandekeybus, Needcompany, etc.). Since then Hus has received commissions for new works from artists and institutions all over the world, resulting in an impressive oeuvre that includes piano music, operas, string-quartets, preludes and fugues, song-cycles, symphonic music, soundtracks for theatre (Ritsema, Cassiers etc.), film scores (Deruddere, Greenaway, Krüger, etc.) and scores for graphic novels (Jimmy Corrigan and Lint, both by Chris Ware).

In recent years Hus has broadened his horizons by integrating untrained amateur voices into his work (Marollenopera) and collaborating with an orchestra of street musicians in Brussels.

His current project, Rawsonic, focuses on the computer controlled automated instruments developed by the Belgian Decap Company. Rawsonic, an Avalon Studios production, integrates the intriguing new sounds of the Decap instruments into a contemporary rock and mixed media universe. Walter Hus is artist in residence at Namahn, a Brussels based company for digital products, where he has a permanent studio for creation and experimentation.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA – SINGER

Fatoumata Diawara (aka Fatou) was born of Malian parents in the Ivory Coast in 1982. At eighteen she travelled to Paris to perform the classical Greek role of Antigone. On her return to Mali she was given the lead in Dani Kouyaté’s popular 2001 film Sia, The Dream of the Python. In 2002, Jean-Louis Courcoult (director of the theatre company Royale de Luxe) offered Fatou a part in his new production. Fatou went on to perform a variety of roles with this company, touring Vietnam, Mexico and Europe.

In quiet moments she often sang backstage and was overheard one day by the director. Soon she was singing solo for the company and in Parisian clubs during breaks from touring. There she met Cheikh Tidiane Seck, the celebrated Malian musician and producer who invited her to work on two projects: Seya, the GRAMMY-nominated album and Red Earth, the GRAMMY-winning Malian project.

Having toured worldwide with these projects, Fatou took the role of Karaba in the popular touring musical ‘Kirikou and Karaba’. She then learnt the guitar and decided to dedicate herself entirely to music. Soon she had a record deal with World Circuit and Kanou was released on 9 May, followed by her first full-length album Fatou on 19 September 2011. This album came top in the World Music Charts of 2011 and came first in several end-of-year album polls including those of The Times and Mojo.

Since then Fatou has performed as part of Damon Albarn’s album and live project Rocket Juice and the Moon. She also featured in Roberto Fonseca’s recent release YO and in Bobby Womack’s album The Bravest Man In The Universe (XL). In September 2012 Fatou boarded the Africa Express Train with (amongst others) Damon Albarn, Baaba Maal, Amamdou and Mariam, Nicolas Jaar, and the Noisettes. The tour was a huge success and culminated in a magnificent venue where she performed with Paul McCartney.

WENDYAM SAWADOGO

Wendyam Sawadogo (actress, narrator, born 1980, Treichville, Abidjan) studied theatre at the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Abidjan. She now acts in operatic productions created by the Bin Kadi So Group. She has been awarded the Ordre du Mérite Culturel Ivoirien, and is Vice-President of the Bin Kadi So Organization.

Selected Filmography

La Tête de Salomé, dir. Marie-José Hourantier (opera verbal, 2010)

Mogo-Puissant, dir. Boubakar Diallo (2007)

Série noire à Koulbi, dir. Boubakar Diallo (2006)

La Belle, La Brute et Le Berger, dir. Boubakar Diallo (2006)

Quand les éléphants se battent, dir. Abdoulaye Dao (2005)

Interference, dir. Ramyond Tiendre (theatre piece, 1994)

HAMADOUN KASSOQUE

Hamadoum Kassogue (aka Kass) is an actor, producer and scenographer (born 1957, Ley (Kani Godouna)). Kassogue embarked on his extensive cinematographic career with the role of Kerfa in the film Sya, Le Rève du Python by Dany Kouyaté. Despite his talent, Kassogue’s transition from theatre to cinema was not without obstacles. However, his role in Dany Kouyaté’s film led to an increasing number of invitations to act in diverse films, including Les Aventures by Séko Boiré (with Habib Dembélé), Bamako by Abderramane Sissako, Mauritania and Le Sage de Bandiagara by Louis Deck, France.

Kassogue is not just an actor; in Toiles d’araignées by Ibrahima Touré (an adaptation of the book bearing the same title written by Ibrahima Ly) he not only played the lead role but was also assistant director. Kassogue’s multi-faceted career in film has led him to become one of the Malian artists most sought after by European directors. This is definitely due, in part, to his wide-ranging experience of documentary film.

Since 1993, Kassogue has collaborated with various institutions both in Mali and elsewhere in Africa and Europe, and he teaches at the Haute École de Théâtre de Suisse Romande. He also works with the Baobab Company in Canada as a scenographer and on co-productions of new performance works.

VIEUX FAKRA TOURE – MUSICIAN

Vieux Farka Touré (musician, born 1981, Niafunké, Mali) has often been referred to as ‘the Hendrix of the Sahara’. He is the son of the legendary Malian guitar player Ali Farka Touré, who died in 2006.

Initially a drummer and calabash player at Mali’s Institut National des Arts, Vieux Farka Touré began playing the guitar for his own amusement in 2001. Ali Farka Touré was weak with cancer when Vieux announced that he had decided to record an album. Ali recorded a couple of tracks with him, and these recordings were amongst his last. In 2005, Eric Herman of Modiba Productions (still Vieux’s manager today) expressed an interest in producing the album and this led to Vieux’s self-titled debut album Vieux Farka Touré, which was released by World Village in 2007. With his second record, Fondo on Six Degrees (2009), Vieux branched out and presented his own sound. In June 2010, he performed at the opening concert for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. He released his first live album, Live, the same month.

In April 2012, Vieux released The Tel Aviv Session (Cumbancha), a collaborative project with Israeli superstar Idan Raichel dubbed The Touré-Raichel Collective that has been hailed by fans and critics alike as a masterpiece. In 2013, Vieux Farka Touré’s beautiful and critically acclaimed latest album Mon Pays was released in homage to his homeland. Mon Pays has been widely hailed as a mature and astonishingly beautiful record.

Writer / Director Peter Krüger
Cinematopgraher Rimvydas Leipus
Text Ben Okri
Editor Nico Leunen
Music Walter Hus
Vocals Fatoumata Diawara
Sound Ludo Van Pachterbeke
Benoit Bruwier
Camera Assistents Olivier Martin
Veroni Landers
Steadicam Jules Debrock
Grip Thierry Kafando
Dieuwert Vandekerckhove
Sounddesign & mix Alex Booy & Huybert Boon
Lineproducers Wim Steeman
Vincent ‘T Sas
Philip Albert Schrooten
Postproduction manager Jules Debrock
Grading Veerle Zeelmaekers
Graphic Design Amira Daoudi
CAST
Narrator Michael Lonsdale
African woman Wendyam Sawadogo
Musician Vieux Farka Toure
Fool Hamadou Kassonge
Production Inti Films
Blinker Filmproduktion
Cobra Films
Dieptescherpte
Mollywood
& ZDF/Arte
Developed with the support of The MEDIA Programme of the Europan Union
Produced with the support of Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds
Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie – Bruxelles
Nederlands Film Fonds
Taxshelter of the  Belgian Federal Government
ZDF in cooperation with ARTE
EURIMAGES
In collaboration with Canvas Sabam