In Bruges: Making of Movie in the Famous Belgian City
For writer/director Martin McDonagh, “In Bruges” began to take shape in Bruges during a weekend in the city. Located in Belgium, about an hour from Brussels, Bruges was an trading city in the Middle Ages, after which it became wealthy. Its fortunes waned, but its historic architecture, art, and canals remained, and at the end of the 19th century, it became a popular tourist center.
McDonagh remembers, While I was first there, about 4 years ago, I had diverging feelings about the place. I started thinking of two characters who might respond to Bruges in distinct ways, and I started writing about them, with specific parts of Bruges for them to interact in and around.
Producer Graham Broadbent thought the script was “an amazing piece of writing–dazzling dialogue with a compelling story and wonderful roles. On visiting Bruges itself, you could see that it would be an additional character in the story; the city has such heightened atmosphere and its so picturesque, whichever way you pointed a camera, it was going to look extraordinary.
Actor Ralph Fiennes comments, The restlessness of these characters, set against an old, beautiful, well-preserved little European city makes for a perfect counterpoint. Martin has a very particular voice–in his writing, the humor delicately coats his rounded characters. As a director, he proved to be smart and generous.
The production came together quickly: within a year of McDonagh meeting with the producers, the film was taken by Focus Features. Moreover, Venice of the North, as Bruges is known, welcomed the cast and crew. Broadbent notes, We were given direct access to many of the actual locations that Martin had set his story in. The mayors, Tourism, and City Film Offices all made it possible for us to shoot there. Actor Brendan Gleeson notes, When I said to the mayor, Thanks for lighting our set, because that's what it's like there; its as if somebody built a magnificent movie set and he said, 'Go shoot.' It's so picturesque and stunningly romantic to look at.
Bruges as Character
However, as the film progresses, Bruges becomes darker and its Gothic qualities come to the fore. The night scenes showcase that even earlier, such as when Ray happens upon the Hieronymus Bosch-inspired movie set. Production designer Michael Carlin adds, The set echoes a Bosch painting that you glimpse elsewhere in the movie. Bruges itself is a key character that changes throughout the story. It starts out as fairly benign, then becomes almost as sinister as Harry (played by Ralph Fiennes), bearing out Rays anxieties.
When Colin Farrell read the script, he found himself laughing out loud. But it was also heartbreaking because I think you really do care for each and every character Pound for pound, it was the best thing Ive ever read. Martins got some brain on him. It's just brilliant, the characters and the situations unique, and with amazing dialogue. McDonagh reveals, I didnt write the parts for anybody specifically. Originally, Ray and Ken were written as Londoners; I only changed them to Irish after wed cast Colin and Brendan. Everything seemed to fall into place after that– their camaraderie, their antagonism towards Harry.
One of Brendans strengths as an actor is that he makes everything sound and seem so naturalistic, like hes just making it up on the spot. His natural warmth and humanity, and his joy of life, shine through in most everything he does.
Gleeson was already well-acquainted with the writer/director, having starred in McDonagh's Oscar-winning short “Six Shooter” and being an admirer of his plays. Gleeson says: I cannot think of anybody, in any of his plays or his screenplays, whom you actively and completely despise. There is a soul to his work; its robust yet delicate. You have this combination of the worst of humanity, speaking the most conscience-free dialogue, and yet you leave with a feeling of connection to these people. They are all too human.
“A cynic can easily despise his characters and allow his audience to dismiss them as being inhuman. The value of Martins storytelling is that, however apparently inhuman the behavior, all of it is borne out in the history of human beings. Watching one of his works, we find that we can't just disconnect and despise; we must engage with these people. Thats a challenge and a very fine line for an actor.
They're Not Black-and-White
Farrell says, There is a purity to these characters, what with their humor and how they view the world. Yes, they bring death to people, but theyre not black-and-white.” Broadbent remarks, You dont expect to embrace these characters, to care what is going to happen to them–particularly Ken; heres a man who has killed many people, yet you come to feel for him, to value him as a person and as a mentor for Ray.
McDonagh adds, All the characters are looking for answers, each in his own way. By the close of the story, hopefully the viewer will have an understanding of what has driven them–the reasons behind the actions they have taken, including those prior to their time in Bruges.
Ken and Ray did not know each other very well prior to the London hit, and now they are forced to live together in this strange place. After initially feeling ill at ease with each other and the city, they become close as they find things out about themselves and about each other.
Broadbent offers, In Ray we see someone who has danger in him, but is also sensitive, vulnerable and full of remorse; in many ways the opposite of the ruthless hit man we might have expected.
McDonagh notes, Ray had to be dangerous and unpredictable, but also sensitive and dark and almost despairing at times. Id seen Colin do dangerous and unpredictable before, and as soon as we met up and talked over the character, I knew he had all those other things in spades too.
But it takes a lot of guts and talent to put all those sadder and more vulnerable aspects up on-screen and not have it be mawkish or sentimental and I think Colin did that brilliantly.
Opportunity for Redemption
Broadbent comments, While this is a film about hit men and their violence, loyalty, and honor, Martin also catches the innocence in them and accords them great affection. This is most easily seen in the relationship between Ken and Ray. We see that they really care for each other. Ultimately, Ken offers– and is offered–the opportunity for redemption. Thats where Brendan is so key to this film. He conveys great strength and compassion, and shows you that a warmhearted hit man does not have to be a contradiction in terms.
Gleeson feels that standing up for Ray in this city, at this time, liberates Ken to be able to envision hope and faith again for his own existence–one that has been so full of violence, which hes very good at, for so many years. He does what he does for Ray because he's been given the gift, from this young lad, of hope.
Of Kens relationship with Harry, McDonagh reveals, They share a past. Harry is a very dangerous individual, yet there is an intimacy to his friendship with Ken, and a trust stemming from a sense of loyalty between them. Farrell remarks, Harry is violent and aggressive in his approach to things, but with Ralph playing him, you see the nuances that Martin layered into the character–and hes very funny as well.
Fiennes elaborates, Harry has sent these two to Bruges as part of his own private reckoning. He intends to balance the books in his moral universe which is quite a violent one.
McDonagh notes, For Harry, I wanted someone who hadnt done the archetypal working-class London gangster type a hundred times before. I wanted a very good actor who would have a different and more surprising take on it. It wasnt until I got on the set that I realized how bloody scary Ralph can be. Broadbent says, Ralphs performance shows you this chilling psychopath, but also the honor code that he has. Ralph had a lot of fun with Martins dialogue and finding an accent with him for Harrys character.
Farrell adds, It wasnt just the words; he preconceived a lot of the actions, the physical movements–particularly for my character. He has a great understanding of space, too. His plays are cinematic. He saw In Bruges in his head, and had a clear idea of what he wanted up on-screen. As a director, Martin is compassionate and actually seems to enjoy all parts of the moviemaking process.
Further taking a page from the theater, McDonagh made sure to convene the actors for a three-week rehearsal before filming began. The writer/director notes that Colin and Brendan had met before socially, I think, but never worked together, although I understand theyd always wanted to. During the rehearsal process; they got on like a house on fire and their respect for each other was total.
Gleeson calls the rehearsing a great gift. At times, I felt I should have bought a ticket at the door, given the quality of Colins work. Im proud hes an Irishman, and Im proud hes a young actor in our profession. He and Martin were made for each other. We all tackled the text so it was really solid before we began shooting.
McDonagh adds, Mostly, our rehearsals were about us analyzing all aspects of the characters histories and relationships to each other. We would find out why they were doing and saying what they were doing and saying at each given moment. This seems pretty simple, but its surprising how helpful this was, to me as much as anyone.
With unprecedented cooperation and support from Bruges–including burgomaster Patrick Moenaert, whose position is the mayoral equivalent, and hundreds of locals working as extras–filming commenced in early February of 2007 and lasted for two months.
A couple of other projects, including one other major feature film (Fred Zinnemanns 1959 The Nuns Story, starring Audrey Hepburn), had shot on location in Bruges over the years. But the In Bruges production and access was by far the most extensive to date.
We had the good will of the entire city, every day, marvels Broadbent. And we knew we were being ambassadors for film, so all of us unlike the characters were nice to everyone!
Fiennes laughs, The unit got around easily; since its mostly pedestrians and horse-drawn carts in Bruges, the cars for the production had the run of the city.
Cinematographer Eigil Bryld also had the run of the city, sometimes literally; McDonagh emphasized handheld work for many of the exterior location sequences, with the director of photography often eschewing formal compositions.
Carlin notes, Some of the shoot was like well-organized guerrilla raids. We didnt have to change or dress many of the locations we shot on. The city did let us put Christmas decorations, trees, and lighting back up and take them down again even though the holiday had come and gone.
The many real-life Bruges locations playing themselves in the film will give moviegoers the impression of having been on a two-hour vacation in the city. McDonagh laughs, Watching this movie, you may well find yourself asking yourself, What is this place just like our characters are.
Farrell, echoing his character, says, Bruges is otherworldly, and like nowhere Id ever been to before. Personally, I found there was a real heaviness to the city.
McDonagh reports, We got the all-clear to film in just about every stunning location I wanted, and you will see so much of the city in the picture. Aside from one church, we were allowed to film in or outside every single location I wrote into the original script. That says a lot about how helpful the people were.
When pressed to name a favorite location, McDonagh cites not one but three. He notes, The boys hotel was actually the same hotel I stayed in on my first trip, before I had any inkling Id write something set in Bruges. I loved the market square, where most of the action takes place. But I also loved filming on the canals. It was such a beautiful blue-skied cold and misty morning. We scrambled to get rolling before the mist lifted, and I think we got some lovely stuff that day.
The productions nearly all-access pass meant that parts of Bruges will be revealed on-screen even to those familiar with the city. A particular standout in all respects is the Bell Tower, which looms 83 metres high (or, over 250 feet tall). 366 steps must be climbed to reach the pinnacle, where in the belfry one is then rewarded with a breathtaking view of all of Bruges and the surrounding countryside.
The on-screen film shoot/set that Jimmy and Chlo are (in very different ways) a part of was situated primarily outside the Gruuthuse Museum (which houses artifacts and objects spanning the 15th century to the 20th). This is not to be confused with the Groeninge Museum, where the cast and crew was allowed inside to film a conversation between Ray and Ken about purgatory. The Groeninge showcases works by such legendary artists as Hieronymus Bosch, Ren Magritte, Jan van Eyck, among many others, and Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson found themselves happily occupied between takes strolling about the galleries.
Broadbent marvels, Its almost unheard-of for a movie shoot to be able to film in real galleries with so many valuable pictures. As it was, we had to take out hundreds of millions of dollars worth of insurance policies for the days we were there, to cover the possibility of any damage to the Groeninges amazingly valuable collection.
Other locations included the Lake of Love, which used to be better known as Minnewater, a regular conduit between Bruges and Ghent, but is now more of a romantic rendezvous point; Jan van Eyckplein Square, by the Spiegelrei canal; the Bruges train depot; Cafedraal restaurant, where Ray takes Chlo out to dinner; Diligente bar, where Ken takes to drink; and Basilica of the Holy Blood, where Ken waits on line, the chapel of which contains the famous Relic of the Holy Blood. Due to concerns over the Relic, the production did receive a rare turn-away, and was obliged to film in a different church nearby.
The majority of the interiors, such as the residences of Harrys contact Yuri and of Chlo, were and are in fact in Bruges. McDonagh hopes that, with In Bruges, audiences will experience a story thats funny, sexy, and dangerous but at the same time sad, strange, thoughtful, and oddly joyous.
He plans to visit the city again, confiding, I actually cant wait to go back to Bruges, but I think Id better go before the film comes out there–cause theyre probably gonna kill me.
Leave a Reply
- Only God Can Forgive: Interview with Nicolas Winding Refn
- Bling Ring: Interview with Sofia Coppola
- Before Midnight: Interview with Linklater
- Hangover Part 3: Interview with Director Phillips
- Reluctant Fundamentalist: Indian Director’s Film about Pakistani Man
- Oblivion: Interview with Creator Kosinski
- Place Beyond the Pines: Interview With Director Derek Cianfrance
- Host: Interview with Director Andrew Niccol
- Host: Interview with Writer Stephenie Meyer
- 42: Interview with Writer-Director Brian Helgeland
- Olympus Has Fallen: Interview with Director Fuqua
- Deep, The: Interview with Baltasar Kormakur