Belgian filmmaker Fabrice du Welz made his name among Euro genre enthusiasts thanks to a bonkers debut, Calvaire (2004), a film often lumped in with the cinéma du corps wave of the late 1990s and early 2000s. What followed is a run of pictures which garnered a cult following: Vinyan (2008), Alleluia (2014) and Adoration, (2019). In between these auteur-leaning movies, he has made several forays into action, which proved less successful. Colt 45 (2014) is a film du Welz isn’t particularly happy with, while Message from the King (2016), starring the late Chadwick Boseman, was put out quietly by Netflix in 2017 and received little attention.
His latest work, Inexorable (2021), featured in the 65th BFI London Film Festival’s “Cult” strand, and is a typically twisted du Welz psychodrama about an interloper entering a bourgeois household and causing merry hell in the process. The project also reunited the director with actor Benoît Poelvoorde (the pair having worked together on Adoration).
Back in October 2021, du Welz arrived in London for the festival and kindly jumped on his laptop for a quick chat over Zoom – literally seconds after getting into his room. Although Inexorable does not yet have a UK or US release date confirmed, the delirious and impeccably crafted thriller hit screens across France on 6 April and has secured distribution in the Netherlands (where it will run in June).
Inexorable, like many film productions in 2020 and into 2021, was shot in lockdown conditions, du Welz’s film making excellent use of the rural locales and creepy gothic mansion which houses upper-crust publisher, Jeanne Bellmer (Melanie Doutey), her famous author husband, Marcel Bellmer (Poelvoorde), and their kid (Janiana Halloy).
Diabolique: What is the creative genesis of Inexorable?
du Welz: Well, it’s always the same, you know, you don’t know exactly where [the idea] comes from, but here I have to say it came from the idea to build a thriller, more classical in its form. I wanted to build some tension and open up the scale to something wider. I thought my cinema was a bit, not limited, but a little bit difficult for some people. I wanted to make something a little bit more straightforward, in that classical form, to play like a surgeon with my preoccupations [as a director] and in a brutal and twisted way. [Actually] I don’t think [Inexorable] is very classical inside, inside the film, you know, it looks classical, but it isn’t.
Your take on the thriller reminded me of Claude Chabrol films. Was he an influence?
Chabrol was an influence. Chabrol is a master. I fell deeply in love with some of Chabrol’s films. He is a true master in every aspect of cinema. [With Inexorable] I wanted to build a more Chabrolian film. In the first thirty minutes, you have these Chabrolian elements, the bourgeois family, we explore the lives of the couple, he (Marcel) comes from the lower class and she (Jeanne) comes from the upper class, to play with that and distort it. I wanted to establish something … it’s a slow burner, to have the possibility to establish the [lives of] characters. But also theatre [is another influence]. It’s why I focused on this particular project so much, it was the ability for me to play with different elements. I don’t know if you know what I mean.
I have to confess I know nothing about theatre. Sorry.
It’s about really one set, one location, different characters in that location. It’s about the unity of that.
The film has a real gothic quality. In gothic fiction, you often have an outsider character come into the setting and upend a situation. Also, vampire movies. The scene where Gloria bites Marcel on the neck. Again, were these things on your mind when making Inexorable?
I think you are completely right. It’s a good point. For me, the Chabrolian establishment at the beginning [is there], but I always thought of Inexorable as gothic, as a ghost story. Because of the mansion [location]. In a sense you’re right, it’s this gothic Chabrolian film, with all these elements of gothic … I don’t know about vampire as a metaphor. I understand the image [you mentioned], and the contamination [in the household], but I think that might be your interpretation, but you’re completely right about the aspects of gothic, Chabrol, [also] giallo-esque, full of light and very baroque.
I want to move on to the theme of class warfare, which I read in the film. Can you talk more about this? Marcel comes from a humble background and now he’s living this rich lifestyle through his wife. Was the idea of class conflict there when you began thinking about the story, or is this just my interpretation again?
I think it’s your interpretation. It’s always difficult, you know, when we discuss a movie and the movie has its own expression and I’m just here, like the lawyer of the movie, I have to plead its case. The movie has its own life, but I like your interpretation and your explanations, and I’m very pleased you have those, but I’m not sure I want to commit the movie to your interpretation.
On the topic of characters, I want to ask why are you attracted to creating people with extreme personalities? It is definitely a recurring element in your work to date.
I really don’t know. I suppose it must be because I’m a little bit crazy myself, and I need to balance my intensity through films. That’s the only response I can give you. You know, for me making movies, it’s not something I do lightly. I need that. If I were not able to make movies, it would be very complicated [for my life].
Another distinct trait in your work is this preference for the female lead to be named Gloria, as well repetition of the surname ‘Bellmer’. Can you elaborate on this?
You’re not the first to ask me … I think it’s because, in my mind, there is some correspondence between characters. I don’t know exactly what I’m doing [with the names] … I start writing and it’s the kind of name that I love, so I name them. With the films, I realised maybe there is a geography between all those characters and the names I’m using, maybe they are related, all cousins perhaps. I love the idea to create a weird family.
Now we’ve covered characters, what do you look for in an actor when casting a role? You’ve recently started collaborating with the great Benoît Poelvoorde, for instance. And Alba Gaïa Bellugi is fantastic as Gloria, and so too Mélanie Doutey. You cast your films so well.
Benoît has such a strong personality. He’s a major actor [in my estimation]. I love working with him. Sometimes there’s a bit of a rumble [between us], but I love him a lot. He’s special and surprises me. With Alba, I saw her on a television show in France and I amazed by her duality. She’s very strong, she’s full of rage, but she’s low profile, you cannot always imagine what she’s going to do, she’s beautiful and full of ambiguity. Mélanie looks so easy-going in that [upper-class] world, she comes from that world, you can tell, her background. I’m always very concerned about casting, it’s always very challenging for me, because I base the casting on their personalities and what I think they are.
I wanted to ask you how much you rehearse with actors and allow them to improvise. What’s your process?
I’m not really into rehearsals. I love to choose my actor and then I try to adapt to them, the situation, the location. I propose a very rigid playground. In that, I’m trying to create something vivid. I’m very pushy … very concerned about them as performers, and I’m close to them during the shoot, trying to bring them to the edge, with their cooperation of course! I love actors, I love working with actors, it’s the best part [of filmmaking] for me.
I should probably end by asking you about the cinematography. The look of the film, like all your work, is striking. It found a great balance between naturalism and gothic ambience and there are moments of vivid colour one associates with Mario Bava and Dario Argento. I found it deeply pleasurable to watch. How precise are you when designing your films, or do you get to a location and experiment?
With this film especially, I concerned myself with being very precise. It is the first film where I’ve been so precise [in designing and shooting]. I condemned myself to be precise. When I picked that location, the scale of possibility was very thin. The location is huge, but we didn’t have the money to change the colour of the wallpaper. We got rid of furniture and things like that. But I needed to build a geography [of the space] and it demanded of me to be very precise in every aspect of the film. So I worked very hard with my art director (Manu de Meulemeester) and my DoP (Manuel Dacosse) on the location, so the audience could understand the geography because it’s always difficult when you watch a movie and don’t understand the space. For the first twenty minutes [of the film], we worked to propose to the audience a very choreographed and very fluid sense [of space]. Once the audience understands this, you can begin to push [the visuals].
I loved the spiralling shots you sometimes used. They had a hypnotic quality, I thought.
Thank you. Also, I wanted to make something completely different from my previous film, Adoration, which is a film told from the perspective of a young boy, a fragile young boy, and the camera was a little bit more on edge. In Inexorable, I wanted to do something in reverse, something more cerebral … more neutral, and emphasis sometimes a little bit some emotion, some feelings, and to play a little bit colours, lighting. It felt great to do it.