He’s a magician. She’s a firefighter. Isolating themselves from the chaos of a world in turmoil, the two lovers live in a crane basket high in the sky, where they go about their daily business. Their challenge is to keep their heads, here up above it all, while everything’s falling apart down below. But when reality calls—when fires need quenching and people need entertaining—how can they best make themselves useful in a world gone off the rails?
Belgian filmmakers Noémie Marsily and Carl Roosens, whose animated musical short Around the Lake charmed festival-goers in 2013, return with an unsettling satire of life in an unsettled world. I Don’t Feel Anything Anymore questions both a society obsessed by spectacle and the temptation to turn inward, while finding moments of humour and tenderness in the chaos. Drawn in an evocative style with simple, stark lines, the film takes us from one bizarre and startling scene to the next. In the hands of these filmmakers with a gift for caricature, this improbable world begins to bear a strange resemblance to our own.
This twisting tale with occasional flights of absurdist fantasy is accompanied by a rich soundtrack that captures the confusion of modern life, blending odd sounds, music, and even the voice of Quebec soprano Natalie Choquette.
I Don’t Feel Anything Anymore is an enigmatic title. What does it mean?
The title came early in the process. The characters in the film feel numb, anaesthetized, unable to feel. The firefighter can’t feel the flames around her, the magician turns into a ghostly shadow of his former self, and the survivors of the fire all sit around in a complete daze. The title is tinged with a haziness that stayed with us throughout the making of the film.
The world you depict is unsettling. Does your film reflect how we live today? If so, what are you trying to express? How do you see our world?
Since we work intuitively, these weren’t questions we reflected on in the early stages. But as the project moved forward, as we drew the characters, the city and the fire, and as our fictional world came to life and became more tangible, we discovered more and more connections to our lives today. So, yes, the film may indeed depict the real world with the almost constant violence that we must cope with all around us.
At the research stage for the graphics, we were greatly moved and inspired by the song “La ville est triste” by Arlt, a duo from France. The song is about a sad windy city where love is mad and people lose their minds.
Humour, absurdity and surrealism are big in Belgium. Do you feel a connection to these movements?
Not especially. We have naturally absorbed these things from being immersed in them so long, but we don’t consciously embrace them. We now live right near the Magritte Museum in Brussels but have never once gone inside. As kids, though, we were hard-core fans of Belgian surrealism and especially loved the comedians Les Snuls, the film Man Bites Dog, the comic strips Idées noires by André Franquin, the paintings of James Ensor, and the rock group the Honeymoon Killers. Their surrealism has surely rubbed off on us.
Who inspires you most in the field of animation?
We have recently come across so many incredible and inspiring works, both online and at festivals. Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier, Priit and Olga Pärn, Phil Mulloy, David Shrigley and Peter Millard are talented artists who get our creative juices flowing. What we admire in them are their artistic freedom, spontaneity and of course humour.
Carl, you are also a musician and composer. What impact does this have on your work? Are sound and music given greater importance in your films?
As a musician, I love when different people collaborate on a piece of music. Working with Pierre-Yves Drapeau, who composed our soundtrack, was a big thrill for us. As we discussed options and experimented, we could feel Pierre-Yves become immersed in the film. He suggested things we never would have considered, like the operetta piece that comes up a few times. We wanted music and sound effects to play a major narrative role, and the results are even better than we hoped.
For other projects like the hybrid series Pauvre histoire pauvre, I created the sounds and images completely on my own, which was also great fun. With this project, I have found something that brings together everything I love.
As a couple, how do you go about making a film?
There is usually a lot of back and forth at every step. Once an idea takes hold, we go for a walk to hash things out. Sometimes, we discuss a single detail for days; other times, we rethink everything in just five minutes. It can be gruelling at times, but when we manage to make a breakthrough, it is exhilarating.
The important thing is to be on the same page, to feel that we have the same vision and are both fully behind the project. Beyond that, we do what we want. We give each other space but can be stubborn if one of us feels that something isn’t working. For this particular film, we did everything together, from writing to animation, and divided up the work intuitively.
I Don’t Feel Anything Anymore is your first NFB collaboration. How was the experience?
Really wonderful. During the month and a half that we collaborated, the film constantly evolved and improved. When you spend too long on a project, you can lose track of what you are trying to accomplish. The people we met and consulted with at the NFB nurtured the film and gave it an incredible boost. Watching foley artist Lise Wedlock at work was amazing. The images came to life before our eyes, giving us a new perspective on our film. The same thing occurred during colour grading thanks to the excellent work of the technical director, Pierre Plouffe. The film truly jelled at the NFB.
Script, Direction and Animation
Original Music and Sound Design
Pierre Yves Drapeau
Pierre Yves Drapeau
Special thanks to
Tomo De Ridder
Corinne Le toquin
Thank you Sylvia Roosens, This film is for you
Technical Coordinator, Animation
Delphine Cousin (Zorobabel)
Delphine Renard (Zorobabel)
William Henne (Zorobabel)
Marc Bertrand (NFB)
Julie Roy (NFB)
with the participation of
Centre du cinéma et de l’audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles
in co-production with
the National Film Board of Canada