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Q&A: Director Fabrice Du Welz on the Beautiful Human Horrors of “ALLELUIA”

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In ALLELUIA, based on the real-life Lonely Hearts Killers case, Belgian writer/director Fabrice Du Welz creates beauty where there is death, obsession and murder. A couple desperate not to be apart or alone stand together, their persistence reaping emotional and moral wounds too deep to bear.

ALLELUIA (in theaters and on VOD today from Doppelgänger Releasing) is about love and the brutality of a certain type of fringe human existence. It’s an honest, exquisitely shot look at a man (Laurent Lucas as Michel, a hustler preying on lonely widows and divorcees), a woman (Lola Dueñas as Gloria, a single mother who joins him on a passion-fueled spree of crime and murder) and the blood they shed and bear witness to. FANGORIA spoke to Du Welz about his exploration into the bleak and cutting side of love.

FANGORIA: Why were you interested in making this film?

ALLELUIADUWELZ1FABRICE DU WELZ (pictured right): I had just had a very, very bad experience on another movie, and got lost in an awful production, and wanted to stand up and do something personal again, and find my own theme. I’d had that script [written with Vincent Tavier] for a few years, and after my bad experience in France, I just wanted to make something special, that was close to me, and I always thought that the subject [of the Lonely Hearts Killers] was great. I knew the original movie, by Leonard Kastle [1969’s THE HONEYMOON KILLERS], but I was much more influenced by the Arturo Ripstein film [1996’s DEEP CRIMSON]. When I saw that movie, I thought, “Well, the story is universal. You could tell that story in your landscape,” just like a theater play, you know? It could work in different periods. So I did ALLELUIA to save my soul as a director, honestly. I just wanted to make a movie without any sort of compromise, to be faithful to my own instincts.

FANG: What aspects of the story did you connect to?

DU WELZ: Well, it was probably the alienation of those two people—the loneliness. Then they suddenly became a couple, and it’s till death, you know? The fact that they’re ready to do anything, and the addiction to being a little bit less alone, to being together, and having to realize that kind of love and live with that ideal. Of course, they have to face their own instincts, and their own personalities. I believe it’s an allegory for many couples, and that’s why I gave so much to the story.

For me it was a kind of abattoir of emotion, and how far I could go with that and play with the actors, and I loved it. They gave me so much, and it was a great experience. We pushed and pushed the boundaries the whole time—and of course, we had to find the money and time to do it. Sometimes I was a little frustrated with different aspects of the project, but overall it was an amazing experience—emotionally on the set, and afterward. It was very intense.

FANG: What techniques did you use to create and maintain that intensity, those powerful performances from your two leads?

DU WELZ: I don’t know; it was not exactly me who was responsible for that, it was principally the actors. I have a lot of energy on set; I can be very, very obsessive about everything, all the details. The people I work with, especially my friends, I’ve known a long time, so I can push them. Everyone is exhausted at the end of the shoot, believe me—especially the actors. I think my enthusiasm inspires them.

Also, I was obsessed with one movie for that whole period of production, and watched it again and again, reaching for that energy: POSSESSION by Andrzej Zulawski. I wanted to achieve that kind of intensity, you know? POSSESSION is one of my favorite movies. I wanted to have that kind of pathos, that kind of passion—and also that kind of theatrical manner, as when Isabelle Adjani faces the camera. When we filmed ALLELUIA, there were many times when Lola looked at the camera. We didn’t keep [those shots], for many reasons—but POSSESSION and Zulawski were with me during the whole production. So the energy was there. There was a great, great energy.

ALLELUIADUWELZ2FANG: What do these theatrical techniques bring to the cinematic language?

DU WELZ: There are many, many things—the alienation, all the Bertolt Brecht statements about it, when an actor talks to the camera—it’s very theatrical. Lars von Trier has made a lot of stuff like that. There are rules, conventions—the audience knows them, and you can play with them, just like in theater. It’s good sometimes to push the boundaries a little further, and involve the audience. Ever since my first feature, CALVAIRE—and I haven’t succeeded all the time, of course—it has been my intention to at least try something different, something personal and unexpected. I love when something is bloody and intense, but it has to be human. That’s the first rule for me: You have to feel something for the characters, you have to be close to them, you have to be concerned with their humanity.

That’s my obsession now: How can I take a very strange, dark journey into their souls? There are many approaches to that; you can be grotesque, you can be funny, you can be sad, you can be furious, you can be anguished, you can be very silly—and that’s rich territory for me. That’s why I love dealing with actors so much: When they’re with you, it can work so well, and you can push them and find out what happens, and so many things that can come through. They just lose themselves, and they’re just bare and neutral and naked.

FANG: There’s an intensity and theatricality to the violence, which is part of why the film is so powerful—but also a phantasmagoric, almost dreamlike manner to the way the movie is shot; for example, the use of soft focus. Can you talk about your choices in exploring brutal subject matter in such a profoundly beautiful visual style?

DU WELZ: It’s difficult for me to answer that question: I’m not always aware of what I’m doing, honestly. I do a lot of preparation, but there’s also a lot that is instinctive. Sometimes I don’t know why I put the focus here, and then there. I just have the feeling that I work like a painter, with my colors, my tools, my actors, and of course I try to have a plan for the whole picture, but when I’m doing it, I go with my gut and try to let it flow. Now that I have a little more experience and knowledge of cinema, of how can I use this stuff…

Plus, I’m still shooting on film. Everybody shoots digitally now, and that makes me sad. I think film is the queen; nothing can be better when you’re making cinema. Especially in low light, just like I tried to do. When you try to deal with contrast, I don’t understand why people go digital. It’s terrible.

ALLELUIADUWELZ3

FANG: Was ALLELUIA shot on 35mm?

DU WELZ: No, it was Super-16mm. That’s very uncommon today, but my last movie, my American one [VINYAN], I shot on 35mm and even a little bit on 16. It’s a fight, it gets complicated, because nobody wants that specific product. When you have a lot of money like Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese or Christopher Nolan, you can shoot on whatever you want, you can use 70mm; but when you’re on a very low budget, it’s very difficult to use film, especially in the States. I’d say in Europe it’s possible, in the end, because there are still a lot of people—a lot of technicians—who believe in that. In the States, there is only one lab; it’s amazing. I believe film will come back, because STAR WARS is being shot on film, and a lot of major directors today continue to fight for that, especially Tarantino.

Anyway, I cannot tell you exactly what my technique is; it’s like asking a painter, “Why do you use red or blue or green?” I don’t know, I just do it the way it is. I don’t want to explain it, because the movie is the movie. I’m happy, of course, to talk to journalists, but I feel very limited in discussing it, because everything’s on the screen. Do you know what I mean?

FANG: Yes, the movie certainly speaks for itself. But what do you think 16mm lends to this type of story?

DU WELZ: The choice of 16mm was really close to my love of horror in a particular time in America, the early ’70s—especially THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. I discovered that film when I was a teenager, and it changed my life, honestly. I’ve always wanted to be able to make a movie that feels the way TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE does. It’s a film that sticks in your bones. There’s a scent to that movie; for me, it’s like 3D. You experiment—the colors, the madness; it’s very organic. I’ve been obsessed with organic cinema since CALVAIRE, and always want my films to provoke a kind of physical reaction. That’s why I divide so many people with my work. Some of them hate it and some like it, maybe because they connect with the physical experience.

That’s my goal: I want to give the audience a very sensorial experience. In ALLELUIA, the fact that we shot on 16mm, with a lot of smoke, very close to the actors, very close to their skin, to show the sensuality, the madness—it’s very organic. It makes me happy.

FANG: So you’re a big genre fan? As soon as you said “16mm,” I actually thought of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE right away…

DU WELZ: I was at a festival last year, and Tobe Hooper was there to present [the restoration of] TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and I screened ALLELUIA the same day, and that was great because I got to talk with him, and I had so many questions for him. I don’t consider myself a horror filmmaker—everyone wants to put some name on your work, and of course, there were some influences there, but I’m free, I do whatever I want, and don’t want to be put in a box.

I’m always happy to be close to that movie, and the fans, and FANGORIA in the States, but today, honestly, horror cinema bores me to death. It’s in a terrible, terrible position; I think horror movies are most of the time silly—there is no political content, they are ridiculous about women. No story. When I was a teenager, I was seeing great horror movies with a lot of content, with a lot of subtext, with a lot of sexual tension, with a lot of creativity. Of course, there are some people doing great work today, but most of the time, current horror movies are so boring. I’m sometimes amazed by what the productions today are like—it has to be subversive, and it’s not. There is no subversion today. You see this one production company, Blumhouse—it’s terrible! It’s just a cynical way to do horror movies. Horror can change your life—when the subtext can reach you, provoke you and make you think differently. I think today’s horror is childish, and misogynistic.

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About the author
Heather Buckley
Heather has a dual career as a Producer (Red Shirt Pictures) and a film journalist. Raised on genre since the age of 13, she’s always been fascinated by extreme art cinema, monster movies and apocalyptic culture. Her first love was a Gorezone no. 9 bought at Frank's Stationary in Keyport, NJ. She has not looked back since. Follow her on Twitter @_heatherbuckley
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