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Davy Chou • Director

"Like moths to a flame"


- Davy Chou talks to us about his debut fictional feature, Diamond Island, which was unveiled at Cannes and is being distributed in France by Les Films du Losange

Davy Chou • Director

After rising to prominence with his documentary Le Sommeil d'Or [+see also:
film profile
(shown in the Forum of the Berlinale in 2012), young French-Cambodian filmmaker Davy Chou made his first foray into fiction with Diamond Island [+see also:
film review
film profile
. Unveiled in competition in Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016, the feature will be released on 28 December in France by Les Films du Losange, which is also selling the film internationally.

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Cineuropa: Was the screenplay inspired by this astonishing place, Diamond Island, this island undergoing mass development off Phnom Penh, or did you decide to set your story there?
Davy Chou
: It was a little bit of both. I wrote an initial screenplay in 2012 which was different, a story of friendship with elements of social emancipation. I threw it in the bin after one year of writing, which coincided with a trip to Cambodia after being away for almost two years. There, I revisited Diamond Island, which had completely changed compared to my previous visit. With the shock of just how much the place had changed, it suddenly became clear to me: I had to write another story in which the outline of the previous screenplay would be rooted in this place. There are a lot of rather huge building projects shooting up in the Phnom Penh area, but the Diamond Island project is truly unique, as it is being driven by young people, if only during this period of transition in construction, with young people turning up on motorbikes every evening.

The plot centres around the discovery of the world by a young man from the country, who is faced with the attractive yet artificial hyper-modern world. How did you want to portray this character?
Whether it happened consciously or unconsciously, there are two levels to the film. The universal aspect, with this being a film about adolescence, an age at which every discovery is like coming across a new world to explore, full of wonder and mystery. Then there’s the very specific context of Cambodia today, with this modernity that comes sweeping in extremely unexpectedly, almost without the necessary preparations or control, and the way in which youth interacts with this eruption of modernity. My starting point for the film was my initial observation when I came across this place. It wasn’t just about the geography and cinegenic outrageousness of the place, but the attitude of these young people: those involved in construction and who stroll around the place at night, and young people from the city who come in in groups, four or five times a week. They come and tirelessly take the same motorbike rides, looking at the towers being erected around them with what looked like, and of course this is just one interpretation, appetite, desire and attraction, like moths to a flame. The film was born from the distance provided by my perspective as a westerner, a rather ironic vision of the place, and my fascination in observing the outlook of these young people, which has no filter and is full of desire.

What about the style, which is very gentle, with a touch of concern and melancholy, an atmosphere that tries to please everyone?
It’s linked to the theme of the passage of time. Everything is transitory, in the throes of transformation, and everything happens very quickly with the arrival of free capital. I was interested in finding another rhythm, one that flowed, in this world that is changing without us knowing whether we have a hold on what’s happening. This passage of time is embodied by the country being in the throes of change, and the age of the characters as they transition from adolescence to adulthood. I wanted to tackle all these themes of change between two states by creating a visual and sonorous environment, a wash of signs that make you float around the space: to put my characters in this state between two states. In concrete terms, I wanted to do this through a very digital, saturated and well-defined image, which sometimes almost fits in with what I would imagine in a video game or music video. And with the sound, to not be afraid of artificiality, especially with very polished voices, which are sometimes quite detached from the settings, which were completely redone in post-production, to try to achieve this rather floaty state.

What will your next project be?
I’m currently thinking about setting a film in France. I want to have a go at this mini-challenge as it’s been a long time since I last filmed in France. The last time was when I made my short films.

(Translated from French)

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