How do you shoot an epic Apocalypse Now-style drama in the Far East on a budget of $5.1m (EUR3.5m)' That was the challenge Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz set himself with Vinyan, the follow-up to his critical hit, Calvaire.
The new film, shot in English and starring Emmanuelle Beart and Rufus Sewell, follows a couple who have lost their child in the Asian tsunami. In their search for him, they travel from Thailand into Burma.
Apocalypse Now famously took years to complete; Du Welz and his team made Vinyan in just seven weeks. "We were in kind of a fever," says the maverick director of his frenzied bid to get his movie made. He describes it as a story about a couple battling to "deliver themselves from grief, madness and death. It's a ghost story in fact ... a living dead movie. In the usual ghost story, it's always the ghost who penetrates the living world. Here, it is the living who penetrate the world of the dead."
Vinyan (sold internationally by Wild Bunch) premiered out of competition in Venice and moved on to Toronto where it caused a stir with the public and buyers. Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group snapped up US and Australian rights.
It is a film with a small army of backers, among them the UK's Film4. "After we presented Calvaire at Cannes in 2004, Peter Carlton (senior commissioning executive at Film4) talked to my producer Michael Gentile and wanted to get involved in another project," Du Welz recalls. But even with Film4's commitment, putting together the budget was a struggle and pre-production began in Thailand before all the money was in place. "We started production with our own Visa cards," Du Welz remembers. "Our Thai crew wanted money. It was a hell of a movie (to make)."
Du Welz intended to cast a UK actress to play the bereaved mother. "I was desperately looking for a famous English actress. But in the UK, if you're a Belgian director who has directed only one movie, it's difficult to get an answer."
Fortunately, one of France's best-known actresses, Beart, admired Calvaire and was eager to work with Du Welz. What Beart says she relished about him was his "transgressive" quality - his willingness to confront taboos head on. He certainly made heavy demands on her, requiring her to play a character crazed with grief.
Du Welz is now working on his next project, Coffin Island, adapted from a novel by Maurice Leblanc. "It's very gothic," is all he will say about it, other than he hopes to shoot next year.
So is it possible to carve out a career as an international film-maker when you live in Belgium' The director laughs: "After Calvaire, I received a lot of offers but it's a question of choice. I try to stay focused on what I have to do."
- Vinyan review, p23
FABRICE DU WELZ'S CULTURAL LIFE
What or who inspires you' "Nic Roeg's Don't Look Now is an amazing movie, because we can never tell whose story it is. It's really deep and striking. I like The Sorcerers, The Exorcist - (William) Friedkin and (Roman) Polanski. The Pianist is a great horror movie. What I like about horror is that it is a transgressive way to reach a golden goal."