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CANNES 2023 Critics’ Week

Stéphan Castang • Director of Vincent Must Die

"Little by little, we advance towards the nightmare"


- CANNES 2023: The French filmmaker sheds light on his highly original first feature film revolving around a man who suddenly falls victim to incomprehensible violence

Stéphan Castang  • Director of Vincent Must Die

Stéphan Castang’s debut feature film Vincent Must Die [+see also:
film review
interview: Stéphan Castang
film profile
was presented in a special screening in the 62nd edition of Critics’ Week, unfolding within the Cannes Film Festival.

Cineuropa: How did you become aware of Mathieu Naert’s screenplay and what made you decide to turn it into a film?
Stéphan Castang:
I discovered it at the SoFilm residencies steered by Thierry Lounas where I was working as a consultant. What I liked most of all was the mix of genres. I really liked the initial concept, I thought it had the potential to be a genre film whilst also exploring violence in quite a head-on, brutal way. There was also the love story which allowed us to explore other codes. It was at the intersection of different types of film, which I find really inspiring, and I could see there was potential for humour too.

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The film follows an antihero, an ordinary man faced with an extraordinary situation.
Our hero does have all the makings of an antihero, and casting Karim Leklou was an obvious choice in this sense. We could have chosen all kinds of actors for an action film, but Karim was ideal because he’s both "banal" and unique, brutal yet very gentle. There’s almost something a little bit slapstick about him at the beginning of this film, with his body which is continually moving and reacting, and his rather impassive face which tries to adapt and to understand a little of what’s going on around him. He’s a bit like Buster Keaton finding himself in charge of a train which has left the station without him asking it to. I also really liked the idea of fight scenes featuring ordinary bodies, bodies which are practically taboo in fight situations, such as children’s, for example. I felt that the fights had to be dirty and almost hellish. Given that they’re ordinary people, we couldn’t have spectacular fights with masterful choreography; they had to be clumsy, like they are when people fight in the street and we tend to look the other way.

Paranoia is central to the film. How did you approach it?
It would have been a mistake to reduce it to madness. On the contrary, everything had to be depicted as reality, rather than paranoia, but there still had to be a sense of danger. Music obviously plays a big part, and composer John Kaced and I decided to work off the principle of leitmotifs and frequencies being wholly recognisable as what comes before an attack, for viewers themselves to be on high alert and almost guess what’s going to happen with Vincent in advance.

Beneath all the genres, the paranoia, the investigation, action and survival elements, etc., how far were you looking to explore the collapse of social cohesion and the current violence in society?
I tend to shy away from hidden messages and denunciation. It’s there, of course, and that’s why the love story is important. Vincent is forty years old and he’s going through a crisis: he’s getting over a break-up, his friends are nothing more than photos on a wall, he posts on Instagram. It’s true that it almost starts out as a social satire on the workplace, but if we’d continued purely along those lines the film would have lost its other dimensions. With this film, I told myself that, more than the violence, what’s extraordinary is the fact that we’re not all fighting each other all the time. Because if we look at the history of mankind, times of peace are actually more extraordinary than times of war. The initial concept for the screenplay explains all that very clearly and it’s a bit of a rediscovery. The most modern element is solitude, meet ups via dating apps, etc.

What were your main intentions for the film’s mise en scène and how did you go about working with director of photography Manu Dacosse?
We had time to divide the film into scenes, even if it meant readapting when we started filming. Our main intention was for it to be a film which drifts into darkness; slowly but surely we advance towards the nightmare, the fire, the father who keeps it in check with his gun. For the fight scenes, we didn’t want them to be fun in any way or to be shot in such a way, so we opted for a scope format, but often with a shoulder-held camera, which isn’t necessarily counter-intuitive but it’s quite unusual. Invariable, we start out with films with pretty tight frames which we gradually relax, much like the film’s scope, which also widens.

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(Translated from French)

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