Interview: Fabrice du Welz Talks About First Love and His New Film ADORATION
For over 15 years, Belgian director Fabrice du Welz has been thrilling and challenging audiences with his transgressive genre features like Calvaire and Alléluia.
With his latest film, Adoration, he explores the coming of age of 12-year-old Paul (Thomas Gioria), who lives on the grounds of a psychiatric hospital with his mother. Paul quickly becomes infatuated with a new patient, Gloria (Fantine Harduin), and together, they run away and embark on a strange sun-kissed journey.
While touched with the golden light of summer, the film probes into the darker side of first love. Love isn’t demonized, but it’s not romanticized either. For Paul, love disturbs his comfortable life and challenges the way he sees the world. As his dealings with Gloria become more difficult due to the state of her mental health, he becomes wracked with doubt, but his devotion never wavers.
Meditative and dreamy, the film delves into the subjectivity of a young teen seeing the world for the first time. It brims with new experiences and perspectives as it tries to capture the unique experience of young love.
Fabrice du Welz sat down with ScreenAnarchy at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema in Montreal.
Screen Anarchy: What inspired the idea for the film?
Fabrice du Welz: There is no science to it. I was keen on the idea of having a central character who was a simple, innocent and exceptional young boy. He falls in love and goes on a mystical journey.
Like many of your films, ADORATION is also about obsessive love. Is there something about the idea that appeals to you?
I've made many films, and in a way, it's always the same subject. I try to make movies to help learn about myself, my relationships with women and with the world.
But it's curious, because sometimes you speak with a journalist and they have a very narrow and mathematical question about making a movie when, from my side of things, it is much more intuitive. I can formulate answers and think about where I'm coming from, but ultimately from my perspective, it is intuitive. I have some story elements; then, I find ways to articulate that story. We are all looking for love and to be loved.
What is it about making a film about young characters that appealed to you?
The concept from the beginning was to create a figure like the Idiot from Dostoevsky, to have a peculiar young boy who could be an angel and to design his journey. We can all relate to falling in love for the first time, and it is very overwhelming. It's violent and very intense. After that, we spend our whole life trying to reproduce that feeling. I like the idea that the kid doesn't abandon his pledge. He was very committed.
Once again, it isn't a theoretical film. From my perspective, I tried to make something poetic and cinematic. I tried to make an elegy about a young boy who has fallen deeply in love. He has periods of doubts, and he doesn't know how to handle that, and he's contaminated by everything. There is a lot of strength and beauty in fragility. I tried to make it as personal as I could and to be sincere.
For me, there is a mystical aspect of that age. It's like Saul on the way to Damascus being struck by light, or Thérèse d'Avila. It's very powerful the way you fall in love, especially the first time, it's like a poison. You don't know exactly what it is, that's why it's very intense. We spend our lives trying to recover that feeling; it's almost like an addiction. The beauty of that is that the young boy he doubts and he suffers, he takes all that misery and turns it into sublime.
Did you work on casting?
We spent a long time looking for the kids, especially the boy. I saw three hundred young actors, orphanages, traditional casting and suddenly, I had a friend who saw Thomas [Gioria] in [the film] Custody (2017). He sent me an email with a YouTube clip and said you have to see this movie. I watched the movie and then set up a meeting. It immediately clicked.
What was it like working on set?
It was maybe the easiest film I've shot. It's strange because everybody told me that working with kids was going to be a nightmare. No, it was completely easy. It was a beautiful summer, and the kids were having a lot of fun. They were very happy; everybody was quite happy. But, the shooting was very demanding; I was obsessed with authenticity. It had to look real.
You talk a lot about the importance of authenticity, what was approach to shooting the film to achieve that?
We shot on super 16mm. I hate digital; I hate the digital world. I'm not very interested in realism, there's enough realism on TV, and it infiltrates everyone and everything. I tried to act against that. You don't have to love the movie, but the film acts like a bad dream or a stain you can't get out but with a lot of light. I work more like a painter. I work with materials, textures. I try to be open and develop my sensibility. I prepare a lot before shooting and then try to push boundaries.
After, during the editing, to try to articulate the idea. Here it is specific because it is from a young boy's perspective the whole time. You have to give the impression of facing the world from the perspective of a twelve-year-old.
Can you remember when you were twelve or thirteen, do you remember how you looked at the world? The way you project yourself onto the future. There is only one point of view. We tried to find that moment where you become sexualize, that coming of age. The challenge was inspiring, how do you capture that perspective?
You mention preparing before going into production, in what sense?
Finding the right location. I was working with my art director and production designer to find the texture of the material. You can't just arrive on set. I want to have only one source of light, and even if that might seem a bit dogmatic, it is justified because then I can shoot 360 on set.
Everyone I work with is like a family. We know each other, and everything is quite natural because we've made several films together. They know how I like to work. That's how I can work to crack open the soul to explore it. The essence of the story is to try and understand yourself through others.
Do you feel as though you learned anything about yourself doing this?
I am always challenging myself. If I don't, there is no point for me. I need to take a risk. If I don't take any risk, then I prefer to do something else. I don't like to work in comfort. You have to put yourself into difficult situations; you have to dance under the volcano, one way or another.
Of course, you want to have the biggest audience possible, but I'm not a complete fool about the cinema today. The business of cinema and what people demand.
Especially in America, they're always asking about morality. I don't care about morality, especially with this movie, because it's not a question of sin or not. It's about the idea of love beyond good or bad. There's no sin, just pure love. The idea was to create something without judgement, morality or sin. I'm not saying it succeeds, but that was the idea.