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Vinyan – Fabrice du Welz interview


Interview by Rob Carnevale

BELGIAN director Fabrice du Welz talks about supernatural drama Vinyan, which follows the aftermath of the Thai tsunami and a foreign couple’s attempts to find their missing, presumed dead son. He also talks about the strong reactions it has since provoked and why he’s looking forward to working in the New York art world next…

Q. Vinyan is a provocative film that haunts viewers, given the way it deals with a couple’s grief over the death of their child in a tsunami. Is that what you were seeking? To deliver something that stays with them, even though they may not actually enjoy the experience of seeing it?
Fabrice du Welz: I think so. [With my films] I try to say something to the audience… to give them an experiment. I’m interested in giving them something new, whether it’s visual or with sound. I always hope that even if they don’t like the movie, they’ll go home and think about it afterwards, rather like a bad dream – you’re reminded of something. It’s atmospheric… it lingers in you head. But then maybe I’m pushing too hard.

Q. You have drawn some radical responses. People either love it or hate it… is that something that’s surprised you?
Fabrice du Welz: Well, I think Vinyan is less provocative than Calvaire, my first film. But it’s drawn a lot of strange reactions and sometimes I feel incompatible with that. Why are people so divided on it? Why do some people love it, and others hate it? It makes me think that maybe I have to find more of a balance with my films. Maybe I’m pushing boundaries too much, and maybe I should have a little bit more narrative. But also with Vinyan, there was kind of an expectation because my first movie was much more of a horror and I suppose the horror crowd expected Vinyan to be more bloody, more gory and more of a horror. It’s not.

Q. It’s more psychological…
Fabrice du Welz: I hope so. But I want to surprise people and take them in some strange direction they don’t know expect when they first start watching.

Q. Where did the idea for Vinyan come from?
Fabrice du Welz: In the beginning, I was trying to do a remake of another film. But I felt incompatible with that and I couldn’t get the rights to it. I realised I was not the right person to do a straight horror movie. But I wanted to keep the idea of children and a couple, and then arrived at the idea of grief and the loss of a child. Then, suddenly the tsunami happened in Asia and, after a few weeks, I decided to set my story in that post-apocalyptic environment. It’s not a tsunami movie, though, it’s about a post- apocalyptic environment and grief. But upon visiting Thailand, I felt connected to it immediately and it then became a very strong character in the film. I see Vinyan as a Thai film.

Q. Did you shoot mostly on location? How close to the Burmese border were you?
Fabrice du Welz: We stayed in Bangkok and south Thailand, so we were quite far away.

Q. And how soon after the tsunami did you start shooting?
Fabrice du Welz: The first time I went was five months after the tsunami. It’s a really lovely country and, like I said, I feel very compatible with it. I hope to live there one day. People have an energy to survive there that maybe in the Western world we have lost. Five months after the tsunami everything was rebuilt – maybe for commercial purposes. But they deal with death and disaster in a completely different way to how we do. So, that became another important part of Vinyan – it puts a Western couple in this Thai world and compares their conceptions of life, love and death and how they deal with that, without any judgements. But it makes them confront these different ideas.

Q. How much research did you do into Thai attitudes towards death and spirituality?
Fabrice du Welz: I spent a lot of time with Thai crews. We were just five French and Belgian guys surrounded by 2,000 Thai people, so we spent a lot of time with them and heard a lot of stories and tried to be faithful to their way of living. We learned a lot of little details… that people pray a lot of every morning, they pray on location… it’s very spiritual and a completely different way of living. And it’s very fascinating.

For example, the scene with the lanterns on the beach… I saw that. In the Buddhist word they believe that if you have an accidental death or brutal death, the soul is stuck somewhere and you have to help find a way for it to reach peace. They believe that the lanterns could maybe show you the way to peace. It’s very beautiful, it’s poetic and very calming.

Q. How difficult was it to cast?
Fabrice du Welz: It was difficult to find the cast. In the beginning, I wanted to find an English couple. The script had them as an English couple and I had an idea of which female lead actresses I was seeking. But being a young director, there was a lot of waiting and people don’t necessarily want to commit to you. After a while, my producer suggested trying to find a French actress and have a mixed couple at the centre of the story.

So, I met with a lot of French actresses and Emmanuelle Beart’s agent called and said she’d seen Calvaire and wanted to meet me. I was surprised at the start, but she was very passionate about the project. She really wanted to commit to it. I told her it’d be hard – that there’d be no money, no trailer and no make-up. But she said ok. Then I organised a read through with Rufus Sewell and something happened. They looked like a couple. So, then it was very easy and it was very pleasant to work with them because they gave me their trust. I know a lot of people say that and it sounds like bullshit, but I’m a young director and I don’t have a lot of experience, but they trusted me and gave me a lot. It was a really rough shoot.

Q. Did that help with the sense of bonding and create a team spirit?
Fabrice du Welz: We had to be very compact. Looking at it from distance, it was a very cheap movie. I dreamt about something a little bit more ambitious. But you have to use the funds you have, so I had great expectations, artistic expectations, and it was really rough because we had no time. Maybe I pushed a little bit too much at times. But I feel I learned so much so. There is a making of… that’s very representative of the struggle. It gives you an idea of what we went through to make Vinyan. But I want to keep learning and improving as a director. I’m still young and, like playing a computer game, I feel I want to keep reaching another level. And I also feel I will be very unhappy and uncomfortable shooting if everyone is boring and comfortable. I need to create a very passionate environment.

Q. Your film has been compared to Apocalypse Now and Don’t Look Now. How does that make you feel as a young director?
Fabrice du Welz: It’s a bit too much. It makes me feel very uncomfortable. Don’t Look Now is a film I’m obsessed with. It’s one of my favourites. But we’re talking about masterpieces. For me, I’m just trying to make a movie. I can’t compare it to those classics. It’s impossible. It makes the movie pretentious. Actually, going back to your earlier question about people’s reactions to Vinyan, sometimes people describe it as pretentious. But that’s what annoys me the most… Why is it pretentious? I don’t think so. It’s ambitious, yes, but it’s not pretentious. Maybe you don’t like it, or don’t get the story, but it’s not right to say it’s pretentious. I want to make movies and cinema. But I’m young and probably full of things to learn, but I’m not pretentious.

Q. Is it true that you’re working with Michael Pitt and Brady Corbit (last seen together in Funny Games) for your next film?
Fabrice du Welz: Brady Corbit, yes, but not Michael Pitt. He’s a very great guy. I’ve spent a few days with him and it’s very exciting. I can’t say much about it because the producers don’t want to reveal the plot. But it’s going to be a psychological thriller based in the art world in New York. We now have a scriptwriter working on it. Then, once the script is completed we’re going to move on the female actress. But I’m very excited because it’s going to allow me to shoot in New York. It’s an indie film, so I feel I’m going to be able to work without studio pressure. And the subject is close to me and I feel very comfortable with the producer. So, we’re currently in good shape with it.

Read our review of Vinyan