"Fabrice du Welz's Calvaire (The Ordeal) marks the high point so far of Eurohorror," wrote
Salon's Andrew O'Hehir this summer. "
Calvaire offers an archetypal setup, in which a handsome but naive protagonist winds up in the rural backwoods, at the hands of some natives who are much, much too friendly. Du Welz rips off more movies than I can count... but the results are so insane, so blackly hilarious and, yes, so horrifying, that I can't object."
In his talk with the Belgian director, Jonathan Marlow
hears that du Welz's next film will take him from the European flatlands to the jungles of Far East Asia.
You worked with co-writer Romain Protat on your short [Quand on est amoureux c'est merveilleux] as well.
We've worked together for a few years. Our collaboration stops with Calvaire
, for now. For my next film and probably the film after, I'll write the scripts alone. But we are very close and we have the same interest in horror films and the underground culture of American and European films. After the short film, we wanted to make a feature. We wanted to make a survival/horror film in Belgium.
Was it difficult to put the financing together for Calvaire?
It was very difficult. It took me five years from beginning to end. Now, horror in France is easier because they realize that, even if it's a not a success in the theater, they can release the film on DVD and there will be a great response from the States or from the UK or from Japan. But, at the time, it was more difficult and it took me a long time to raise the money. Also, it was difficult because the script wasn't for a mainstream horror film. When you tell somebody, "I want to do a horror film about a guy who is convinced that another guy is his lost wife," it's hard to convince them.
In the way that the script is constructed, you create parallels throughout the story. Everything is paired, from the claustrophobic spaces of the nursing home to Bartel's inn. Bella has left Boris in the way that Gloria has left Bartel. When you were creating the script, it was clearly a conscious effort to create these two worlds in which very different things are happening.
In a way, Calvaire
is a fairy tale. It's "Marc Stevens in Wonderland."
It's akin to the Brothers Grimm form of storytelling...
It was built as a fairy tale. We'd start with a very realistic point and, to complete a long journey and end in an abstract way, we built the story accordingly. First, even if we orientate as a fairy tale, it begins with a strange character who sings in a nursing home. Before he gets physically lost, he gets temporally lost - if you remember, with the window shot - so, at that point, everything is different. It's a long kind of slipping and, with all slipping, there is a border, a frontier, in a brutal way. That's why I also like very much fantasy films or westerns because it's always about borders and... does it make sense, what I say?
Was it always clear to you that Marc Stevens and Bartel would share this kinship as performers? That they are used to playing a role on stage in some capacity?
Because Marc Stevens is like a kind of fantasy man, all of the people around project whatever they want on him. Probably if Marc Stevens was a baker or a butcher, Bartel would also be a baker or a butcher. Marc Stevens is a kind of empty box. He's an illusion. Marc Stevens is the illusion of humanity. He's the illusion of love, he's the illusion of fate, he's the illusion of whatever you want. All of those characters around him are the same character because there is a connection between the old lady at the nursing home, Bartel, Robert Orton and all the villagers. It's the same loneliness, it's the same desperation; the same will of love.
Their loneliness puts them in the position for desperate acts. The women in the nursing home and the people in the village both act out in some inappropriate way.
It definitely gets more inappropriate as the film goes on...
is an experiment. It took me so much time to raise the money and to shoot the film that, when I started shooting, I said, "Fuck off, I want to experiment." I wanted to break clichés and to go through the subject and try to find something new. I won't say I succeeded, but I tried to very hard.
Were there other films in the "Things Go Horribly Wrong" genre that served as inspiration when you were crafting the script? Deliverance seems to be a note in there somewhere but essentially any "Don't Go in the House" film, such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, also fits...
I grew up watching horror films. I grew up watching all kinds of films so there is some influence, obviously, but there are some unconscious influences. I consider myself like a very young painter who has a very big influence and I am trying to find my own way, you know? That's why people say sometimes that Calvaire
has "so many homages." Yes, of course, and I try to find a way to release my own creativity and my own way of filmmaking. That's why Calvaire
may look like Deliverance
or like Psycho
or like Texas Chainsaw Massacre
. But I also feel, in another way, all of these great films that get mentioned, there is a purpose for it. Belgium went through some very bad times in the last few years. Probably it was political to put the story of Calvaire
in my country because Belgium is well-known for it's social cinema. There are no shocking films made at all here.
Until now. Is it your intent, for your next film as well, to work as a genre filmmaker?
I don't know. For me, it's a difficult question. All I want to do is cinema. I really love cinema so much, it's my whole life. Sometimes it doesn't matter what the subject is. For now, because I tried to reach a point where I find my own way; but maybe in a few years it could be different. For now, I only want to tell my own stories and the subject sometimes doesn't matter because what's important is to go through it in a cinematic way. Just like in painting. If I draw an apple, there is no interest for it, but if a person like Van Gogh drew it, it might be very interesting.
How did you select Benoît Debie, your cinematographer, to work on your short and now this feature film?
Benoît and I have known each other for a very long time and we are close friends. Everything started Quand on est amoureux c'est merveilleux
. After the short film we made together, Gaspar Noé
contacted Benoît to make Irréversible
and, after that, Benoît made Innocence
. I think he's currently in New Mexico shooting a film for Paramount and then he'll do the Marilyn Manson
film. I think he's become a great director of photography. He has a great sense of lighting and we are very close and we have a great osmosis together. We like to work together and it's very easy for us. We also have the same desire of cinema.
With the "Christmas and we're all together" scene, when they're in the house with Boris and the other villagers show up, how much of that was on the page and how much of that was crafted on the set, as far as the blocking?
In the script, it was very basic. But on the set, it was very complicated. If you can imagine all the animals and all of the shooting.
How long did it take you to shoot that scene?
Eight hours, because we didn't have the time or the money for more!
How long was the shoot overall? Was it just a few weeks?
A few weeks, yes.
Your composer, Vincent Cahay, also plays a small role in the film, as does Romain Protat, briefly.
That part wasn't written. My producers wanted to have the villagers speak but I didn't want them to talk. To me, it was an unnecessary accessory. At that time, I saw a film called Un soir, un train
by André Delvaux
and there was also a dance scene with a kind of death figure. That's how I got the idea for this scene in the bar because the villagers and the village are the same entity. When we experimented with that dance sequence, from the first shot I knew that it was something because it was a poetic way to transcribe the loneliness, despair and the madness of that community.
Why was it so easy for the villagers to see Marc as the surrogate Gloria?
It's the same as when you see a crucifix on the wall and you say, "This is the Son of God." It's the same absurdity for me. I don't want to disrespect all the faithful believers but, for me, religion and faith is kind of an insane idea of human beings. If you are convinced that a man is your lost wife, it's very strange. Absurd, funny, but very scary, too. Throughout society here in the western world, there are crucifixes everywhere and, within that crucifix, is the Son of God. It's scary, too. Very scary, at least for me. I was raised in a Catholic school. Maybe that explains some things.
It may explain some things. What about the film that you're intending to make next?
It's a post-tsunami thriller that also starts in a very realistic way. It's about an English couple who lost their son in the tsunami disaster and, six months after the disaster, they're still in Phuket waiting for some news from the Red Cross. He's an architect and his boss calls him and says, "You have to go home now. You've been gone too long. I've done what I can but now you have to come back." In a video, the woman sees silhouettes and she believes that it's her son. She convinces her husband to stay and to go to Burma and, at one point, there are apparitions of kids and more kids and more kids, and those kids are a reflection of their mind. It's a bunch of young kids who push them very far into the jungle. It's a kind of a reflection of their insane minds. The film is also about the conflict of the western world, the "white" world, and our obsession with denying death, as opposed to the Asian world where death is a part of life. This is a huge conflict and the couple really becomes insane.
When do you hope to go into production on this film?
We are in the middle of casting in London because it's an English-speaking film and it's a co-production between the UK and France. We expect to shoot in January or February. I'm very excited about it because it's a kind of an experiment to make films in the jungle. For me, it is a kind of dream.