The contemporary Belgian cinema is the one which pulls no punches. Almost universally, the Belgian film tackled what we could call “difficult” subjects — Man Bites Dog deals with a serial killer operating in a society on a moral decline, L'Enfant has the main protagonists sell their child to score drugs, The Seventh Day, which won an Oscar, is a story about integration of people with Down syndrome, and The Memory of a Killer has an aging hitman breaking up a paedophilia ring. The most recent “troublesome” feature arriving from Belgium is Fabrice Du Welz’s Calvaire (lit. "The Ordeal"), a survival horror story set in remote Belgian backwoods. Fabrice was kind enough to answer a couple of questions for our website, so the guys thought I — being a naturalized Belgian citizen — would be ideal for this occasion. Thanks go out to first and foremost Fabrice for accepting the interview, then the usual suspects — Pete West, Alien Redrum for the hookup and proofreading, and Daniel Benson and Daniel for going through my Q's as well. — Miloš Jovanović
HorrorTalk : Fabrice, tell us, what got you in the filmmaking business in the first place ? And, more precisely, what got you into horror ?
Fabrice Du Welz : Cinema is my big love. Horror cinema is my first love.
HT : Can you tell us how difficult, exactly, is it to raise funds for a movie — a horror movie, at that — in Belgium ?
FDW : It’s always difficult to raise money for a first feature. In Belgium, there is a big social film tradition, so it’s a little bit more difficult than anywhere else. But I was determined to make the film, more than ever.
HT : Of late, it seems that the Belgian cinema lives only in Wallonie — save for Eric Van Looy’s excellent De Zaak Alzheimer (released in the United States as Memory of a Killer), Walloon film was a dominant force commercially and critically outside of Belgium (Belgium is split into two federal units, the Dutch-speaking Flanders and the French-speaking Wallonie — ed.note). But, all those films — C'est arrivé près de chez vous (known as Man Bites Dog in the English-speaking countries), L'enfant and now Calvaire — seem to deal with overly dark subjects. Can you try and explain this ?
FDW : Belgium is a dark, surreal, schizophrenic, absurd place to live. Calvaire is a very Belgian film.
Fabrice Du Welz
HT : Calvaire is a story of a man who gets kidnapped and molested in some remote Wallonian backwoods. To an ordinary Belgian viewer — like, say, me — this might wake some unpleasant memories from the past decade, namely the Dutroux murders and trials (Marc Dutroux is a convicted child molester and murderer, currently serving his life sentence in Belgium. The whole case around him shook Belgium for the better part of the '90s, and caused international uproar — ed.note). I know this sounds somewhat morbid, but did those events influence your film even a little bit ?
FDW : Yes, Calvaire has a connection with what happened in my country in the last decade. A lot of horror films that I admire so much are a witness of their country's dark times and murderers — Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Zombie, Henry, etc. But first with Calvaire, I tried to explore the genre. I wanted to experiment with the cliché of horrors; no pay-off, no twist at the end, no sympathy for the main character, sympathy for the psychopath...that's also the limit of the film and that's also why Calvaire divided the critics so much.
HT : Many critics linked your film to the staples of survival horror genre, such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes and Deliverance. Personally, I thought Calvaire — especially the first two thirds of the movie — was reminiscent of Psycho. There is a bit of Norman Bates hiding within Jackie Berroyer's character Bartel, wouldn't you agree ? Even the names are somewhat similar.
FDW : Yes, behind Calvaire there are two horror films, Psycho and Texas Chain Saw Massacre — they are “key films” for Calvaire. Between those two influences, I tried to find my own way, my own creativity, like a young painter who tries to learn from great masters. But in a way, Calvaire is a survival horror, ‘cause I love survival horror and since I've seen TCM or Hills Have Eyes, I have promised myself to make one. A French critic told me something one day, he told me that for him Calvaire is a kind of prequel of TCM, and Laurent Lucas could become Leatherface after what he goes through. I'm deeply in love with that idea.
HT : Despite many horror films relying heavily on the use of music, Calvaire is wholly music-less. Were you aiming for the more “documentary” look with this, attempting to make the story as believable as possible ?
FDW : Having no music was the choice I made. I just wanted sound design of the elements, the opening song and the one piano scene and that’s all. For Calvaire it goes well, because of the wind, the pigs, etc. At first, Calvaire look like a documentary, but slowly we follow a brutal slippery slide into a world of madness, where human confusion, violence and chaos reign, until the end where nature gets right back and the human disappears.
HT : There is quite a few brutal scenes involving your lead actor, Laurent Lucas. How was the whole filming experience for him, considering his character, amongst other things, has his hair savagely cut off and is nearly sodomized at one point ?
FDW : It wasn’t easy. The most problematic scene was the shaving of his head. I remember that during the shoot the script girl and another girl felt sick because of it. Because it was long, difficult, there was a kind of insanity in the air. Once again, I tried to make Calvaire very different than the horrors films I used to watch. I tried to create visceral violence here.
Also, Laurent and me decided that during the shaving he would act somewhere between screaming or laughing, so you don’t know if he’s completely insane, or if he has a sado-masochistic streak. We don’t know if he likes to be tortured like that, or he’s suffering. That’s the ambiguity of the character, and that’s the thing I love very much. We’re never sure. We are never sure, whether he’s suffering or whether he likes it.
Marc Stevens (Laurent Lucas) hanging out.
HT : One shot caught my eye midway through the film — the shot where Marc (Lucas) enters his van and sees someone was digging through his things, with the camera going “through” the windshield and back. Can you explain us how was this achieved ?
FDW : Well, actually, the shoot was very easy, the problem was the Dream Catcher. We had so many problems with the Dream Catcher. Also, I really wanted to make that shot, and the producers would say to me “No, you can¹t do that” and I'd say, “Well, I want to”. And finally, I paid that shot from my own salary. For me, if you go through the windscreen, you go through the mirror. The reality completely changes at that point. Most of the major audience don’t realise what's that shot about.
HT : For me, the most memorable moment in the movie was the impromptu dance in the village cafe. The scene looks ad-libbed on the spot, was this in the script or was it a “spur of the moment” thing ?
FDW : No, it wasn't in the script. At that point I tried to portray the villagers like an entity, a community. I didn't want them to speak, so one day, watching films at home, I saw André Delvaux's Un soir, un train (One Night, One Train). It’s an old film, a Belgian film. At one moment, a beautiful woman who probably represents Death invites Yves Montand to dance in a very Flemish pub. He resists, but finally he dances with the beautiful lady, and everybody else starts dancing too. When I saw that I thought, “Oh my God, that’s the way I have to shoot that scene!”. It’s a dance scene. If you accept the dance scene, everything is complete and it's the key to open the film and accept the rest of the madness.
HT : Would you also say that the dance scene is Calvaire's own “duelling banjos” ? Both scenes carry an ominous undertone, and the dance, to some extent, looks like a call to arms.
FDW : Yes, that’s right. They ask for something, they need to be complete in a very strange way.
HT : Can you tell us anything about your future projects ? Anything horror-ish in store ?
FDW : I hope to begin shoot in springtime. It's an English-speaking project called “Vynian”, a co-production between the UK and France. The story is about an English couple in Thailand who are mourning the death of their son, and then go deep into the jungle in search of the son who the mother thought she had seen on a videocassette. From the very realistic opening scenes based on the aftermath of the tsunami in Thailand, we are plunged into the couple's decline, these two increasingly alone and vulnerable characters who gradually become ghostlike figures.
It’s basically another experiment, another horror experiment. I'm very excited with that project, shooting in the jungle must be great.
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