Alleluia, the latest film from Belgian director Fabrice du Welz, premiered at Film4 FrightFest, back in August 2014. It was released in the UK for the home market right before Christmas. I was given a twenty-minutes interview slot with du Welz on the morning of the FrightFest screening, and interviewed him in a hotel bar on Leicester Square.
Since 2004 he has directed four movies: Calvaire (2004), Vinyan (2008), Alleluia and Colt 45 (2014). Alleluia is the second feature in what du Welz is calling a trilogy centred on the theme of 'mad love'. Each will star Laurent Lucas, and be set in the Ardennes region of Belgium. When we'll see the third picture in this 'Ardennes Trilogy' is currently unknown.
Is Alleluia a remake or an adaptation?
du Welz: It’s not a remake at all. A long time ago, I watched Deep Crimson (1996). The director, Arturo Ripstein, takes the story of the Honeymoon Killers and set it in Mexico. I said, ‘Wow, that’s a great idea. Take the story and put the story in your own version’. That’s how it started. It’s absolutely not a remake - it’s an adaptation ... a love story.
What's the attraction to this theme of 'mad love'?
The theme is mad love … [it's] very intense and in an extreme way. I really don’t know ... my first short film (A Wonderful Love), it was about that subject [mad love], and probably because it’s a question about blindness, extremity and projection. It’s a good start for madness, jealousy and inner dissatisfaction. I try to find the balance between that subject and the humour of it.
Do you see anything beautiful in mad love, or are you attracted to the scary and extreme aspects?
There is something beautiful. Honestly, what I try to reach is the poetry of the macabre, the bizarre … and the right balance between expectation and the aspiration; the high aspiration we all have, and the mystical aspect of love and projection of love.
There is also the use of black magic; Michel casts spells.
Honestly, that comes from the real story. He (Raymond Fernandez, the killer) used voodoo. He thought making voodoo spells would help present himself as a better human, as a better man, with sexual potential and all that. Also, it wasn’t used in the previous adaptations of the case: The Honeymoon Killers (1969) and Deep Crimson.
Michel and Gloria are a match made in heaven and hell.
They are people with no moral boundaries. I find this fascinating. After the first killing, they talk in the kitchen, and you realise, they’re just like kids, without any kind of morality, [sense of] good and bad, no conditions and conditioning. All they want to do is reach this idealised fantasy of love. They are ready to do everything for that.
In the third act, when there is the opportunity for them to kill a child … Michel saves the girl. Does he have a limit? Even if his lover, Gloria, does not?
The question of interpreting my movies is tricky for me. Of course, I have a lot of answers, especially for the ending.
I also think Michel - even if briefly, before changing his mind - is trying to kill Gloria in that climatic scene. The family set up suits him, right? And then it's Gloria that becomes the problem.
Maybe. Maybe he fell in love with Solange (Héléna Noguerra), and there is a new opportunity for him.
For me, it's as if Michel has finally found his idea of the domestic idyll. A big house, land, a beautiful partner, even a step-child that likes him.
Yeah … that’s right … I always feel a little bit, to interpret my work. It’s on the screen and after the credits … you leave the screening with a lot of questions about him and her [Gloria].
I imagine that’s exactly what you wanted - plenty of discussion.
Yeah. I can’t answer strictly, it’s like life. Why do people kill, etc.? It’s mysterious. Those themes attract me. With Michel and Gloria, in the last act [of the film], you have to reveal something else. We have a family, a new woman – a prettier woman – and a child. She seems very lonely, very neurotic, maybe she’s looking for something, not necessarily to love, but an opportunity. It’s very complicated.
You’ve worked with Laurent Lucas previously, but how did you come to cast Lola Dueñas?
The actress was the major difficulty [of the movie]. My producer wanted to have a French actress, a well-known one. I resisted this idea. French cinema is so bourgeois. They don’t want, especially French actresses, [to take the role] because my demands were so high. So, we spent a lot of times meeting French actresses. I was always sceptical. I saw a movie, a Spanish movie, not so great, but I saw Lola Dueñas. I realised she is the one. A friend in Paris knew her, so I got in touch.
My producer said, ‘No, Fabrice. It’s a difficult movie and you want to use an actress from Spain? You want to commit suicide? To kill yourself?’ I said, ‘No, I think I have something’. My instinct said that she was the one. If Lola had refused the role, I probably wouldn’t have made it. I was looking for someone who could do a lot. I’m very demanding with the actors. The film rests on the actors … if you can’t believe the love [between Michel and Gloria] the movie is shit.
Was it always in the script, that Gloria sings as she’s about to dismember the corpse? It works because it represented, for me, the moment of her departure from her old life – that of the singleton and being loveless. Now, she’s dedicated to something new and exciting. It's the same sort of juncture/cue in a musical for a song, but in Alleluia it is quite startling.
Yeah. It was also a visual experiment. I wasn’t sure [about the scene], but I asked my music producer to compose me a song. He was very keen. We wrote the lyrics and we shot it and it worked … but I wasn’t sure about how it would play in the movie. We had a lot of discussions in the edit suite about that scene. The film already has many aspects.
It's the same with Calvaire, right?
Yes. It’s tricky, though. You have to find the right balance. I was ready to get rid of the scene in the edit, but when I saw the reaction of the editing crew, people loved it. We kept it in.
The cinematographer, Manu Dacosse, shot a couple of my favourite films in recent times: Amer and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears. Benoit Debie is your usual go-to man. Why the switch?
Benoit is my friend and shot all my other movies. He was supposed to finish a movie [somewhere else] and come to Belgium to shoot Alleluia. Then Wim Wenders arrives. He told Benoit that he was shooting a movie. I was having production issues at the time – with the actors, with the money – so he moved on. I was very worried about working with a new director of photography. I know Benoit and he’s one of the best DoPs working in the world today. Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet (directors of Amer, The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears) are friends, I saw his work [for them] and I said one day I could work with him. Benoit left the project and I could have gone with Nicolas Karakatsanis, who shot “Bullhead”. Manu responded very well to the material and he knew it would be very different from Amer. We shot with hardly no lights and the direction would be different. He made a big, big step and I’m sure he’s going to be a great European cinematographer.