Filmmaker Yú’s experimental social satire Flowers While You’re Here is an exploration of masculinity through a feminine lens. It presents the notion of the “Herbivore Man”, a term coined in Japan, as an antithesis to traditional ideals of what it means to be masculine. Through a series of stylised compositions Yú is able to unpack these social constructs and showcase a fluidity between both the masculine and feminine. Her visual aesthetic is gorgeously lavish as she constructs her shots with an embrace of fashion and style, evoking high art and dance as means of combatting these age-old paradigms. DN is delighted to premiere the breathe. produced Flowers While You’re Here on our pages today and is joined by Yú below for a comprehensive conversation where she walks us through her filmmaking process, talking everything from the patterns of masculinity she wanted to satirise to the use of multiple shooting formats to underpin the catharsis of her themes.
What sparked the idea to create a film exploring the tender side of masculinity?
Flowers While You’re Here is a piece that explores softness and intimacy in masculinity. The piece is a literal visualization of the term “Herbivore Man”, a social label used to coin “feminine men” in Japan. I first came across the term while reading a scholarly study called A Phenomenological Study of Herbivore Men by Masahiro Morioka.
I think we often talk about the masculine gaze on femininity, I wanted to explore the feminine gaze on masculinity.
After learning about the term I felt it was odd, the need to distinguish men, who don’t fit a specific prototype image of man, into their own category. What defines what is feminine, or masculine? Where is the line that is drawn to define each? What are our social perceptions of this? And can they be challenged? I think challenging this preconception, and maybe the term “Herbivore Man” in general, is what led me to create this film.
The cinematography is gorgeous and I like how you combined formats, what drew you to start the film in 16mm before moving on to digital?
The idea of shooting in 16mm for the prologue of the film was to emulate vintage natural science films from the 50s or 60s, visualizing the tone in which I felt Herbivore Men were presented in Morioka’s article, as a type of “new species” to be discovered. The transition to digital was to visually represent breaking out of that perspective, into a point of view that embraces the fluidity in femininity and masculinity.
Could you talk about shot construction and composition? Were there any direct inspirations for any of the set pieces?
The set pieces designed by Eva Kozlova, were to emulate exhibits at a museum, presenting men as if to be studied. Really the perspective was also about building a certain ‘gaze’ for masculinity. There’s a section in the piece where we use a 16mm lens on a full-sensor camera, which produces this sort of magnified circular image, thanks to experimentation with DoP Justin Black. I think we often talk about the masculine gaze on femininity, I wanted to explore the feminine gaze on masculinity.
How did you collaborate with Eva on each segment of the film? What did she bring to the table?
I asked her about this and she said: “The design and general art direction are such integral aspects of this piece. The aim was to create these vignettes that felt surreal, almost magical, like a collection of completely unique performance spaces, all connected through movement and story. Each world was built upon its own distinct motivation – we heavily referenced classical art, theatre, modern and traditional elements of architecture, and of course the natural world. It is so exciting from a design perspective to be able to integrate such a wide array of inspiration. Ultimately we aimed to create a collection of abstract, bold, yet intricate and classically beautiful performance stages for the story to be told upon.”
How was it developing the choreography of the piece? Was that element of the shoot mapped out or was it improvised in the moment?
There was actually no choreography and all the movement was improvisation, which I think really speaks to the talent of the dancers and our cast. I actually come from a dance background, so I have a lot of trust in dancers being able to just feel the music and move. The best moments for me actually come through improvisation – the quality of movement is more raw and surprising. Shawn Bracke, the choreographer and movement director, was great to work with. He really was able to find prompts and language which translated the feeling we wanted for camera into a quality of movement.
The transition to digital was to visually represent breaking out of that perspective, into a point of view that embraces the fluidity in femininity and masculinity.
How did you approach the use of colour in the film? Each composition has such a distinct colourisation.
We really wanted each set to feel like its own distinct world, which is where colour came in. Going back to the original conceptualisation, the idea was to make each set feel like a different exhibit in a museum, which is where colour came in. Ana Escorse, the colourist, was really able to mold each scene to have its own distinct palette and look. We wanted each scene to also feel lush, and a saturated, bold grade really helped to craft that feeling in the image.
Who did you work with on the music and what were you looking to evoke with it?
The track is by Nomvdslvnd. We’ve always wanted to collaborate and create something together so I’m really glad it finally happened. The original song itself already has an animalistic quality to it with the percussive beats layered in the track, but also a tenderness from the vocals layered over the top which felt right for a concept about finding tenderness in masculinity. James Peck, also known as Memorecks, did the sound design and also mixed and created the final version of the track that we used for the film, which had a break in the track. In the edit we wanted to create an intimate moment where we linger in male intimacy.
What can you tell us about any upcoming projects you’re working on?
I just finished production on a film for recording artist Pierre Kwenders which is headed into post. I’m also hoping to write my first short over the next couple of months.