Dominik Moll, the German director behind such thrillers as Harry, He’s Here to Help and Lemming, which were both nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, takes a new approach with his latest film, The Monk, out this month on DVD.
A complex mix of subtle, psychological horror and gothic, period romance, The Monk may at first seem a peculiar subject choice for a director better known for films placed in contemporary settings. However, this tale, based on the classic novel by Matthew Gregory Lewis which charts the rise and fall of a Capuchin monk (Vincent Cassel) in 17th century Madrid, has a deeper moral meaning. It focuses on the far-reaching effects of guilt and the power of religion over the individual, messages which are as relevant today as when the scandalous novel first appeared in the 18th century. It all makes for a disturbing and sinister gothic horror film.
When Starburst caught up with the director, the obvious question to ask was what had attracted him to a novel which has largely been forgotten, or perhaps avoided, by filmmakers in the past?
Starburst: What attracted you to the novel The Monk as the basis of a film?
Dominik Moll: I was attracted by the very visual and gothic atmosphere of the novel and also by the tragic figure of Ambrosio.
You wrote the screenplay for the film as well as directing it. Did you enjoy this dual role and what freedom did you get from it?
Until now I've always written my own scripts, often with co-writers. It allows you to anticipate the artistic choices of the film, so I guess it gives more coherence to the film.
The film has been widely marketed as a thriller, despite the original 18th century novel on which it's based often being referred to as a 'gothic romance / horror'. Was this approach intentional?
I would actually rather describe it as gothic romance, or a gothic tragedy.
The film goes for the subtle, psychological approach as opposed to being in-your-face and visceral. What was the intention behind this?
That was what interested me, to bring depth and truth to the characters, but of course I wanted the film to be visually beautiful as well.
Visual impact clearly plays a major part in the film, for example in the grey starkness of the monastery being contrasted with the sun bleached browns of the Spanish countryside outside its walls. Was this a conscious decision?
Yes. All the work on visual contrasts, such as bright exteriors and dark interiors, and on the use of colours was planned in advance and well prepared.
The Catholic religion does not always come over well in the film. What reaction, if any, have you had from the church in relation to the film?
There's been no reaction from the church. The film is much less anti-Catholic than the novel. In fact, it is almost pro-Catholic, as Ambrosio, contrary to the novel, is seeking redemption in the end by trying to save Antonia.
How did you get Vincent Cassel involved with the project?
I sent him the script, met him, explained my vision of the film to him and he said yes!
In his portrayal of Ambrosio, Cassel lays himself bare physically, emotionally and psychologically. Was he open to this from the start and how did you both approach the development of such a complex character?
The important thing was that Ambrosio should be very sincere about everything he was doing. It was important to me that his faith should be strong and deep and that he should be convinced by what he was saying in his sermons. Otherwise it would have been much too easy for the devil to bring him to fall. Once we had established that, his development didn't seem so complex.
The film and story have a deeply European feeling. Are there plans to release it internationally and how do you feel it will be accepted outside of Europe?
Yes, it will be released in countries outside Europe. It will come out in the USA and South America, for example. I don't think the reception will be that different than in European countries.
What project do you have lined up next?
A Hitchcockian psychological thriller, which I hope to be able to shoot in 2013.
The Monk is released on DVD August 20th and is reviewed HERE.