The Miracle, a place where the sun always shines, with endless opportunities to relax and food in abundance. But how do you relate to a place that constantly confronts you with the things you don’t have?

Film credits
Director, Scriptwriter: Nienke Deutz
Music: Mark Schilders
Sound Design: Céline Bernard
Producers: Annemie Degryse, Peter Lindhout, Koji Nelissen, and Derk-Jan Warrink
Technique: 2D animation, Stop-motion
Running time: 15:00

The Miracle is a stop-motion film that tells a thought-provoking story on unconscious social behaviours, with impressive visual expressions. This film makes us realize that there can be something that is being overlooked by people in places where the majority would normally be content.

It is the latest film by Nienke Deutz, who is famous for Bloeistraat 11, a film that has won many awards including the Cristal for short film at Annecy International Animation Film Festival, the Grand Prix at Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film, and so on.

We interviewed Nienke Deutz, the director of the film, on the story behind The Miracle.

Interview with Nienke Deutz

Hideki Nagaishi (HN): What was your main reason for deciding to create this film? What was your goal?

Nienke Deutz: I don’t see many childless women over 35 in pop-culture. When I do see them, they are often portrayed in a tragic way. But if I look at myself and the people around me, there are so many people who don’t have kids with different experiences. Pregnancy and motherhood are celebrated, but at the same time the emotions of women who – for whatever reason – do not conceive, often seem to be hushed up and ignored. I would love to see this topic portrayed more and decided to make a contribution.

HN: Where did the initial idea of the film’s story come from?

Nienke Deutz: The starting point of the film was very clear to me from the beginning. I wanted to make a portrait of a woman over 35 that is dealing with the question of having kids or not, which manifests itself in a complex fascination with pregnancy.

I had a clear idea of who Irma was but I did yet know how to tell her story, where she would be and what she would do.

During the development of The Miracle, I was traveling to film festivals with my debut film, which was interesting and fun but it also made me feel alone and alienated. That’s where I came up with the idea to place Irma in a resort, a sort of ‘fun factory’ that is is aimed at providing pleasure and relaxation. Such a place can be very revealing when you’re the only person who doesn’t seem to be having as much fun.

HN: What did you most want to portray or deliver to the audience through the film?

Nienke Deutz: With Irma, I want to show a character that has her struggles and doubts but also finds humour and strength in her situation. I wanted to show that things can exist at the same time; you can grieve something that you never had and still be okay (even happy) with that.

HN: What was your biggest or most impressive creative achievement on this film project?

Nienke Deutz: I feel very proud of the last scene of the film, it always moves me in a way when I see it. In my work in general, I’m always thinking about how to create an animated character that you can empathise with. I’m also interested to see how I can use the qualities of the material to tell the story in a visual way – that the transparency of the characters is not just a visual decision but has a narrative function. The way the animation, voice acting and the visual language come together in this scene is the result of my research on those topics, I’m very pleased with the outcome.

HN: What things did you take care in the most while developing the film’s whole story from the initial idea, and portraying the main character’s inner life? And why did you take special care in those things?

Nienke Deutz: I wanted to make an honest portrait of Irma, a character that feels real. The most challenging part in writing her story was to find the balance between her struggle and her optimism. I wanted it to be clear she is mourning something, but she is not just that, she is very funny and finds pleasure in a lot of things. This was so important for me because I did not want to make a film about a woman that is sad because she is on her own with no kids.

HN: Similarly with Bloeistraat 11, you used a unique and impressive visual style of animation for this film. When you were developing the film, what part of this visual style did you feel really suited the storytelling in this film?

Nienke Deutz: I did not start off wanting to make a film in the same technique. But as I was researching about the portrayal of pregnancy in pop-culture I found these articles that describe how the use of ultrasound changed our perception of pregnancy. We all ‘know’ what an unborn foetus looks like because of medical publications and (3D) ultrasound, but it’s not something we can actually see with our bare eyes. With ultrasound the body of a pregnant person is made transparent. The characters in my film are transparent and can, depending on the lighting, appear more or less solid. I found this visual parallel striking and thought that using this technique could be an interesting way of telling the narrative in a visual way.

HN: Could you please let us know how did you realise the visuals of this film, specifically in the process and techniques you used to create this stop-motion film?

Nienke Deutz: The film is a combination of 2D animation and stop motion. I modelled the sets in Blender to have a reference for the sets for the 2D animation. Then the characters are animated in 2D, these drawings are printed on transparent sheets, then cut out and hand painted. Then we built physical sets and reanimated the characters frame by frame in those sets by replacing the drawn frames.

HN: Could you please let us know the story behind the music and sounds of the film?

Nienke Deutz: I went to a holiday resort for a few days to get a sense of what a such a place looks and sounds like. What really stood out to me was having music everywhere all the time. From pop music near the swimming pool to esoteric flute music in the spa and jazz in the bars and restaurants. To enhance the authentic feeling of the resort I thought it could be interesting to work mostly with diegetic music. The music was made by Mark Schilders, who had a lot of fun creating music that he would not normally make. He actually created a whole pop song, that you hear for a few seconds when Irma exits the hotel into the hotel garden. A lot of times during a holiday there is a summer hit that you keep hearing everywhere, so that was the idea for that song. Corinne Dubien has made the sound design, she did a wonderful job really bringing the resort to life, adding so many details and also making it sound way more full that it was. 

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