Two-time Palme d’Or nominated filmmaker Dominik Moll talks religion for THE MONK
As The Monk hits out cinema screens today, The Fan Carpet were fortunate enough to catch up with the director of the thriller Dominik Moll, as the two-time Palme d’Or nominated filmmaker discusses his latest project.
Set in 17th century Madrid, The Monk tells the story of Ambrosio (Vincent Cassel) a highly-respected monk who starts testing his faith and giving in to his sexual temptations. The Frenchman stars as the protagonist and Moll talks of his delight with working with the Black Swan star.
The German director, who speaks fluent English also discusses his intentions of working in Britain one day, whilst also telling us of his desire to one day work with Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch.
The Monk is an enticing and thought-provoking film, you must be delighted with it?
It’s always difficult to say or know if you are delighted with a film as most of the time you see the things that don’t work for you rather than the things that do work, and I’m not the kind of person who throws compliments at himself, but yeah, there are things that I am quite happy with, for instance, working with Vincent Cassel was a good experience.
Were you a fan of the Matthew Lewis novel beforehand, or did you read it knowing you’d be making it into a film?
I couldn’t say I was a fan of Matthew Lewis as I read his novel only five years ago but I’ve always been drawn to that kind of literature and those who explore the darker side of the human soul so this is something I’ve always been attracted to and the very strong visual atmosphere attracted me to it and I thought it would interesting to work on it and try to make it into a film.
Tell us about the adaptation process, as the first period drama you have done, was it quite challenging for you to take a story and set it 400 years ago?
Yeah it was, in fact it was something that I wasn’t really attracted to previously i always thought it was complicated and expansive but what I liked about this novel and this particular type of period piece is that its not based on any actual historical facts and figures but from Matthew Lewis’ imagination and like a fairytale so it leaves a lot of freedom and you can do whatever you want as long as it fits into the general atmosphere of the story. Then I really began to like having all of the costumes and sets to play with and have no computers and cell phones as narrative elements.
When the story first came out it was banned in some places and was called blasphemous, have you had any backlash in any way from any religious people?
No, because I think that although you could definitely make a film from the novel that would be very scandalous and shocking, but it wasn’t my intention, I was more attracted to the tragic love story side of the novel rather than the scandalous sexual side of it and also the novelist is very anti-catholic, but the film is not really that way inclined.
But were you at all wary about taking on such a religious story?
I don’t think so because again it’s not really a film about religion but a film about a person who uses religion to fill up his life, and it could also be political ideology, or a fervent communist, so I used religion to tell this story but I wouldn’t say its really a film about religion.
Did you have to do much research into the period of time which the film is set, or monastery’s from that time?
I did lots of research, and not only as far as costumes but I read a lot of sermons from the time and what they talked about and how they written, but again it was not in an effort to be a faithful as possible but just to know how things were and to get inspiration from it, but also to take the freedom to do things differently as they really were.
Despite being set in Madrid the film features an all-French cast – did you ever have any thoughts about doing the film in Spanish?
No the thought that I had first was to do it in English actually, because it’s an English novel but production wise because it was a French production it was therefore difficult to finance it in English so I decided to do it in French. I didn’t have any problems with that because if it had been based on historical facts it would have different but instead its something completely invented and almost like a fairy tale in that respect and you can have Spanish characters speaking French and I don’t think it matters that much.
Of course one of the great positives about it being in French was that it meant getting the brilliant Cassel on board and he must be one of the most sought after actors in the world at the moment, how did he come to be involved in the film?
I didn’t write the part for him, or anybody, but when we started thinking about and his name come up I immediately thought it was quite intriguing and challenging as he wasn’t such an obvious choice and I was interested in seeing if he could restrain all of his physical and sexual energy to allow him to play that part, and when I met him and talked to him about it he immediately felt it was a different proposition and a different way of working to what he had been used to and he immediately said yes and immediately trusted me and my way of seeing things so it was really very nice to work with him.
The Monk is a real visual experience, at points it was incredibly dark and quite shadowy, at others points incredibly bright and vibrant. What the thinking behind this?
The idea from the beginning was to really play with those contrasts and first to make it visually striking and to have those contrasts between dark and light, with very bright exterior scenes and dark interior scenes and mostly brown and black colours and then suddenly a red dress which is striking because you hadn’t seen that many colours before. It’s always a matter of creating images that are more striking and will stick in your mind and its often like that with dreams where you have strong images that will stick in your mind and the film for me really has something dream-like, or nightmarish-like and I wanted to find that again so we worked on that and there were a lot of visual references I had worked on, such as Spanish paintings which also work on those kind of contrasts.
You mentioned before about possibly working in England – is that something you plan on doing one day?
Actually right now I am working with an English screenwriter and we’re putting a script together which is an original screenplay not an adaptation which is quite a Hitchcockian film, and we’re writing it in English and we’re not sure yet if it’s going to be shot in French or English but there is a temptation because every time I come to London it’s so cinematic and really one day I would love to make a film here.
Are there any specific actors you’ve got your eye on that you’d like to work with?
There is one English actor whose name has now of course slipped my mind. He plays in the
modern Sherlock Holmes adaptation. Benedict…
Cumberbatch. Don’t worry it’s quite a difficult one to remember.
That’s right. I saw him in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and it was the first time I had seen him and I thought he was very intriguing and mysterious and for me it was really the most intriguing actor I had preferred in that film and for instance he would be someone I’d like to work with one day.
Going back to the film, effectively it is a thriller but there are some very scary moments, particularly when Valerio enters the frame. Was the horror aspects intentional?
Yeah it was. I think I could have pushed that a bit further and it could have been a bit scarier without damaging the tragic love story but I definitely wanted that to be present within the film.
THE MONK IS OUT TODAY