Tekst (smal)

PÖFF 2023: Lilian Sijbesma about Under the Naked Sky

Interview by Nick Cunningham

Director Lilian Sijbesma talks to SEE NL about her audacious new film in which a young teen is forced to take on family responsibilities in place of her intellectually disabled mother.

Still: Under the Naked Sky - Lilian Sijbesma

Teenager Elvie is smart, astute and extraordinarily capable. Her mother Emma is attractive and loving but intellectually disabled. She is also prey to unscrupulous men. Against an emotionally-charged backdrop of burgeoning sexuality, increasingly diminishing capabilities and death, the lives of both are destined to change irrevocably over the course of one fateful summer.

The film is shot from Elvie’s young and confused point of view. As a child she would draw dragons with her mum, but while she is ready to progress from this level of interaction, her mother isn’t. What’s more, she observes her mother openly making out with a man and, living in a small caravan on her grandfather’s campsite, cannot help but see evidence of their naked union. 

“I wanted really to show the perspective of this kid in this complex situation and let the audience feel with her,” says director Lilian Sijbesma.

For me as a filmmaker, but also as a film lover, it’s really strong to get pulled into a world, or to pull spectators into a world, that allows you to step out of your own reality and go with the story.”

The film is located within an idyllic woodland, essentially a neutral domain which enables the drama to play out free of any political overtones. “The story could have easily been told in a more urban kitchen sink setting,” the director stresses. “But for me, that's not where my filmmaking art starts…For me, the forest was a really exciting place to work with, where I could isolate them in a way that it's really a story of a family and a small community, instead of telling about society as such.” 

For Elvie, the forest is both a hiding place and a sanctuary. “Nature gives her freedom, but it also serves to isolate her further. So it was a strong force in the story,” Sijbesma adds.

The director had a fairly strong idea that she had found her Elvie as soon as the shock-haired Ylse Ringeling auditioned for the part, but she had to be sure.

“So many girls were great and were so empathic, even at that age, but I had to look for a specific girl who could tell this story and also show her loneliness and the way she sees the world. And you have to be sure if she is stable enough to carry a whole film,” says Sijbesma. “But Ylse kept growing actually, and my conviction got stronger and stronger. So we cast her and then we started rehearsals. She already met Rifka (Lodeizen) who plays her mum, and they had a great connection and chemistry, which really helped. Rifka said to me in the second week, ‘wow, she’s a different kid already. I see an actress.’”

Lodeizen, one of The Netherlands’ most accomplished and revered actors of recent times, threw herself into the role of Elvie’s mother. “Rifka knew right away that this was a challenge she had to take really, really carefully and seriously. So she started her own research and sought contact with people who are living like Emma - like her character - and she worked for months in a social workplace in continual contact with them.”

The research paid off quite brilliantly. “There was a moment when it all clicked and we felt that this was perfect,” says Sijbesma. “She was Emma now and you felt her love for her daughter. But you also felt her struggle with her own life - and that's what this role is all about.”

Under the Naked Sky**is produced by Revolver Amsterdam, in co-production with Serendipity Films (BE). The film is supported by the Netherlands Film Fund, Netherlands Production Incentive, Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF) and Eurimages.

Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival takes place from November 3 to 19. For more information, click here. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

*Film is supported by the Netherlands Film Fund
**Film is supported by the Netherlands Film Fund and Production Incentive