A Conversation with Filmmaker Éric Falardeau on his Feature Debut Thanatomorphose
Choosing to be a filmmaker in the niche market of Quebecois horror may not turn you into a household name, but it can earn you acclaim from fans, industry colleagues and festival circuits. And who wants to be on the front page of a celebrity blog anyway?
This is the life of Éric Falardeau, whose debut full-length production Thanatomorphose opened in Spain last year, winning best horror film at the Molins de Rei horror film festival.
The horror film about a young woman whose body begins to decay, made its North American debut at this year’s Fantasia International Film Fest. The Link sat down with Falardeau, who earned a Masters in film studies from the Université de Montréal, to discuss the whats and whys of his film, the challenge of directing and what the future holds for this industrious busy-body.
From the time it took you to write up the movie, find the cast and wrap up production, two years had elapsed. Why did it take that long?
Éric Falardeau: Actually, it took us 3 years. We wanted to shoot three years ago but we had money to make another film (Crépuscule), so that’s why we postponed the feature length. At the same time, this enabled me to keep my salary as a producer and director and to invest it in the feature.
You liken the sacrifices a director has to make while shooting a film as going to war. What do you mean by this?
EF: It’s like war because you have to do [everything] yourself and commit to it. You’re putting your own money in the venture and you can’t go back. On location you do as much as you can: I helped make sets, was a cinematographer, made animations. There was so much that had to be done that we ended up helping each other out. One moment I’m a director, and the next I’m helping the special effects team. You end up doing everything you can.
Pre-production is easier from that perspective. I had a regular job, so I wrote during the weekend, in the morning, by night. It’s when you start shooting that it goes crazy. The people around you, like friends, girlfriends and family, must understand that for the next two or three months they won’t see you at all. Sometimes it’s hard for people in your social circle.
How was the movie funded?
EF: We received no financial help. You never know which films will get money if you go by traditional ways and submit them for government funding. There wasn’t a point in submitting Thanatomorphose for funding, as it would have been judged too gory. It was mostly [volunteer] work from the people on the team and the actors. Others lent us their equipment.
Where did you find the cast?
EF: I’d seen Kayden [Rose] in short films before, films by [Montreal director] Matthew Saliba. I just thought she was perfect, I wrote to her and convinced her to play the part.
The film demanded a lot from the staff and cast, and especially from the main actress, both physically and psychologically. It seems like an intense movie. How did Kayden Rose handle it?
EF: We had a lot of discussion in pre-production. The main aspect for her was the nude scenes and sex scenes. She’s naked almost the entire movie. The second thing is that there’s always make-up on her – it’s hard on the skin and it took six to seven hours in the morning just to prepare her. I told her I’d understand that she’d have mornings where she’s tired and pissed off.
It was difficult for her but at the same time we agreed it would help her with the acting, because being tired would aid with the psychological aspect. It’s hard to fake that.
How gross did things get?
EF: (laughs) There’s latex and goo and fake blood and all that stuff. Then there are the maggots. Funny thing is our first day we brought back the wrong maggots (to put on Kayden); we brought back meat maggots, and they bite. And you can hear them in the bag—really crazy. So we took the sound for the film, but we went back and got the regular ones.
The poster is sexually suggestive. Was this intentional?
EF: It was. Sexuality is a big theme in the film, because of the relationship the girl has with men. At the same time, we didn’t want to make something too explicit. It has good taste.
All your films seem to deal with sexuality. Where does that come from and where does it fit in this film?
EF: I don’t exactly know why sexuality of violence is important in my films. At the same time, I did my master thesis on gore and body fluids in horror and porn, so I guess that all came together with what I think about, what I read, what I watch.
I think both are universal topics. People have a fear of dying, and we all have our own issues with dying and getting old. There are only two things that can make you, in a way, immortal: the first is telling stories and having them retold, and the second is by having children, and sexuality is connected to keeping this bloodline going. Sex is an answer to death. It adds a bit of hope, and I think the movie has a bit of hope—even though you know what will happen pretty much from the start.
“There are gory scenes—but it’s not about that. It’s about life and death and how we treat ourselves and our bodies.”
Thanatomorphose seems more like cerebral cinematography than horror. Why is that?
EF: It’s not a gory horror film per se—there are gory scenes—but it’s not about that. It’s about life and death and how we treat ourselves and our bodies. It’s existentialist. Sometimes people want […] a thrill ride. Sometimes, on the other end, people want art house. This film is in the middle.
Ultimately it’s about the girl and how she treats herself, both body and inner self. It’s focused on that, because it’s important to know how she’s really feeling. That kind of slow pace is how you get in to her mode of living.
Can you take us through the process that gave you the music for Thanatomorphose?
EF: It’s a really funny story. A few months before starting the shoot I was at an art gallery in New York City and I found a record by Rohan Kriwaczek, who is a specialist in funerary violin music. He’s the only one who does that, and I was listening to it and I thought: that’s perfect. So I contacted him, and he said yes. We just placed the music over the scenes and they fit perfectly. We didn’t have to edit at all. Then there’s the other music by The Black Angels, and it fit perfectly too. It was really weird. Normally I’m really picky with the sound because people forget that sound is half the scene. In fact, if there’s a mistake with the visual, people are more forgiving. But when there’s a problem with the sound people notice it immediately because we’re used to always having sound around us. It is as important as the image, and especially for horror films because many of the sounds are done outside the scene by the FX guy.
What’s next for you?
EF: I’m trying to relax and enjoy the festival. Right now I’m writing another feature length film—less gory, more fantastical; working on three short stories, including an adaptation of a love story by Tolstoy; and an experimental film. I’m also studying to be a teacher in film studies at a CEGEP and University level.
Find more about the film here. The next screening of Thanatomorphose is August 3 at 11:45 p.m. at the J. A. De Sève Theatre (1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd., LB building). Tickets are $9.