Kristof Hoornaert about “Empire” and the banality of human existence


Empire by Kristof Hoornaert left me wondering about its content and the specific visual techniques. The first time you watch Empire, this short film seems very simple and empty, almost sterile. But there is so much more behind it, so that is why I talked with the director himself and his producer Wim Vanacker (Sireal Films) to get the answers to my burning questions.


I found the loft where the family lives in to be very cool. But then there are little colour-elements like the pink dinosaur. It fascinated me, although it seemed so banal and out of place. Why exactly the dinosaur or other elements?

Well, when we arrived at the loft,the pink dinosaur was already there, and we considered this dinosaur an actual proof of human life inside the house, the fact that there is a family living there with a child that plays, watches television etcetera.

Props are very important in Empire, like the clock next to the window, which symbolises that our society is based on timing things. All we do is scheduled. ‘Time’ is something we seem to lack, but it is what our life is based on.

Why did you opt for Kris Cuppens and Ina Geerts to perform the main characters?

The answer is very simple. I wanted actors who are good enough to perform these parts, who are able to carry this film and help me convey my message.

I consider Empire to have a close-end, no matter what the husband decides to do when he comes home. Or he shoots himself, or he turns himself in by calling the police. His life is over, no matter what.

In the first version of the script, he killed himself, but then I canged the end, because I wanted him to live and carry the burden of what he did. I wanted him to carry it along for the rest of his life. That is even harder than killing yourself, I think.

The camera is very static and the audience almost automatically pays more attention to the audio than to the visuals. The only moment I felt that the camera was moving, was when the husband came in. From then onwards the camera zooms in on him, and the wife and son are left out. You only hear them. Why is that?

You only noticed the zooming in from then onwards? Actually, I started zooming in from the moment the mother started ironing, so right at the beginning. But for the audience it looks like going fast forward from the moment the father comes in. I zoom in, because in the end you can watch the city of Brussels and the square full of playing children through the window. That is to show the contrast with what happened inside and to show that life goes on outside of the loft . The loft is so serene and sterile, and outside there is movement, visualised by the playing children.

The child is barely visible, you only hear him. And the mother is filmedfrom behind. Why is that?

Because I did not want them to be ‘the’ child and ‘the’ mother, I wanted them to represent any child or mother. Consequently, I wanted the audience to be able to identify with the situation and the general image of a family, and not with individual characters.

I’ve read about your plans to make a feature film, called Resurrection? Will the feature be about the same issue as your short films (Kaïn, The Fall and Empire), namely existential crises? And will it be equally heavy-loaded?

Yes, that is what concerns me the most personally,  and what I feel I should tell the audience. Resurrection will also be about the human society and our relationships.

Thank you very much for the conversation!

Resurrection is now in pre-production and will be produced by Fobic Films. Hoornaert did not want to give any details yet about the cast, but that is yet another reason for us all to go watch the film after its relaese expected in 2017.

Some more information about Resurrection and Fobic Films can be found on the website.

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