Interviews: Belgian Director Alan Deprez Talks About His Short Horror/Thriller Film Cruelle est la nuit (Cruel is the night)

Alan Deprez talks Cruelle est la nuit

Cruelle est la nuit (Cruel is the Nightrecently screened as part of the midnight program of short films at the Boston Underground Film FestivalThe festival's midnight program continues to deliver some of the most disturbing and messed up pieces of cinema from around the globe.

The Belgian short film was written and directed by Alan Deprez, and stars Kevin Dudjasienski, Pascal Gruselle, Arnaud Bronsart, Bertrand Leplae, Sabrina Sweet, and Pierre Nisse.

This film has it all, everything that makes you fall in love with cinema. There's excessive violence, gore, unsimulated orgy scenes, an outstanding score that ramps up tension, fine camera angles and crisp editing. A group of anarchists look to kill a politician, only to discover that they've unexpectedly walked in on an orgy. Director Alan Deprez showcases his desire to push the limits of cinematic boundaries and we need more work from this brilliant filmmaker.

We had the opportunity to speak with the director about his film and filmmaking in general.

TMS: First off, can you provide us with a little bit of background information. Did you always want to be involved in filmmaking? What type of training or schooling did you have?

AD: During my childhood, I was passionate about cinema, fantasy and horror movies, all kind of creatures and monsters, true serial killers, Stephen King’s novels, the paranormal, the occult and UFOs (even if I had nightmares thinking of these things). Besides, I was very lucky to experience the video club era and all its associated culture. I’m really a VHS child. No joke. That’s how I grew up. I remember I was fantasizing in front of some VHS covers (like the Faces of Death ones) in the horror section. I was especially brought up by my grandparents and they let me rent every VHS I wanted, when I was staying at their house. They were outstanding and I miss them a lot… In a roundabout way and at that time, it’s also through their TV that I’ve discovered porn movies. I was watching some on the sly and on the Canal + French TV channel (like 90’s Marc Dorcel’s productions). Sometimes, I even recorded porn flicks on VHS tapes that I used to lend to my friends at school. I was such a naughty boy! 

As a young teenager, I was faced with the Dutroux case and all of this media hysteria about pedophile rings, children being kidnapped… It was a strange period and we were a bit frightened (we were living around Charleroi, in the Marc Dutroux area). Our parents told us to be careful about unknown cars stopping next to us (we were skateboarding in the streets), to not talk to strangers, etc. In a way, I think people of my generation in Belgium have been marked by this criminal case. Almost like a stigmata. I also started to watch David Lynch, John Carpenter and David Cronenberg’s movies. Moreover, Blue Velvet is my favorite movie and made me want to become a director. Later, I studied cinema at INRACI, a famous Belgian film school based in Brussels. It was more of a technical school than artistic training, but it was really foundational. During 4 years, I’ve worked as 1st A.D., cameraman, electrician, art director and TV director (on some documentary reports about Mozart), but they never let me direct fictions. They were far too scared by my ideas. Heh, heh, heh!

TMSDid you have a lot of support when you decided to get into filmmaking?

ADNot really, except for some of my family. Most parents don’t want their children to work in the artistic field and to earn a living with it. You know the story. But can we blame them? Tough question… It’s difficult to crack in the industry and to make money out of this activity. But when it comes to me, I like to consider myself as a lucky guy, cause I’ve got support of many great technicians. Most of them are friends and they work with me on every new project, almost like a troop and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s one.

TMSYour films are clearly influenced by what some would consider extreme cinema. How and when did these influences form?

ADIt’s different now, but I used to watch the most extreme and sulfurous features. From gory stuff to Italian cannibal movies, mondos and weird porn. It was like a quest but I’ve turned it all around. I like some HK Category III’s (like Ebola Syndrome, Red to Kill and The Untold Story), Kasper Juhl’s Gudsforladt (a sort of extreme modern film noir), Caligula, Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible, some bizarre pinku movies like Star of David: Beauty Hunting, Karim Hussain’s Subconscious Cruelty, Jimmy ScreamerClauz’ crazy animated movies (this man is fucking sick!) or even Africa addio by Jacopetti & Prosperi (Mondo Cane’s authors), THE mondo movie's masterpiece. I know it’s very varied. Singapore Sling and Water Power are some of my favs. The first is a weird Greek drama shot in black and white, very intense, with torture, offbeat voice-over, dark humor and a fetish touch. The second is a porn movie directed by Shaun Costello (Pandora’s Mirror), starring Jamie Gillis (he was not only a great sex performer, but a wonderful actor). Inspired by true events, it tells the story of the Enema Bandit, a serial rapist who wants to purify women by administering them enemas (#metoo, for sure). He’s also a Vietnam war vet and in my opinion, we could (should?) consider this as Taxi Driver’s distant pornographic twin.

TMSYou made your first short film in 2010. How would you say that you have evolved or changed since filming Ab Aeterno in 2010 and Erotomania in 2012?

ADI’d say I’m more mature now and I’ve learned from my mistakes. I also got more financial resources to achieve Cruelle est la nuit (Cruel is the night) in 2016, which is also more narrative than the others. Ab Aeterno (especially) and Erotomania are like early works and were a way to practice for my crew and me. Furthermore, Erotomania was a kind of video capsule for BIFFF’s (Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival) 30th anniversary and a tribute to Japanese pink movies (Nikkatsu’s ones). Some of its elements are a bit experimental too.

TMSPrepping for this interview, I watched Erotomania and I absolutely loved it! The combination of Japanese exploitation, the Roman Porno and pinku eiga subgenres, and a beer commercial is totally wonderful and bonkers at the same time. How did this project end up coming about?

ADAs I said, it was a sort of order from BIFFF. It explains the Cuvée des Trolls beer, which is like the fest’s official beverage. I wanted to make silly jokes with it and confront it with nudity. That was important for me to create something very attractive, erotic, delightfully strange, stylized (such a wonderful work from my faithful and so talented DOP Nicolaos Zafiriou) and with some asian movie fan or connoisseur winks (the pixels on the girl’s pubis, etc.). It also stars Damien Marchal with a great 70’s porn star fake mustache. For me, Damien’s a real lucky charm. As much as possible, I want him on every one of my sets.

TMSYou mentioned the term “cinema desires” in a prior conversation that we had. Can you talk about what your “cinema desires” are?

ADI guess I wanna work on something more naturalist and maybe more contemplative, but that will depend on the project. It’s very specific. Cruelle est la nuit’s like the end of an era. God only knows… or Satan?

TMSWhat’s up with Cruelle est la nuit (Cruel is the Night)? Where can people see it? And what do you want them to know about the movie?

ADIn 2018, I hope people will continue seeing it in cinema festivals and in 2019, it should be released on DVD (with some great extras, like a long making of directed, shot and edited by Julien Jauniaux, who also did an amazing job on Cruelle est la nuit’s editing). I want people to assess it not only as a genre movie (a home invasion, to be precise), but to think about its political subtext and its dialogue. I’m tired of saying that it’s not a porn flick or a simple way to show violent acts and explicit sex. These elements are a backdrop and many clues are disseminated through AETNA’s activists’ monologues.

TMSWhat was the inspiration behind this story? Was there any real-life political or social events that served as a basis?

ADNot really. I didn’t want to refer to actual politicians or events, but in Belgium, the political context is sometimes very strained between the North and the South side of the country. Maybe our short film is permeated with this state of affairs. I think Cruelle est la nuit is typically Belgian (its weird sense of humor, sometimes almost surrealistic), even if I didn’t want our shady politician (Hein Stavros) to have a Flemish accent or this sort of things. That would have been too expected. I prefer him to speak with this odd eastern accent (Pascal Gruselle was so good at that). The explanation behind Cruelle est la nuit’s dark and nihilistic tone’s are because I wrote it right after losing my maternal grandmother (she was like a mother for me) and my cousin Antoine (he was only 30 years old…). A big part of my youth has vanished with their loss. Writing Cruelle…’s script was a sort of catharsis.

TMSWhere there any direct cinematic influences or homage in this film?

ADI didn’t want to be too referential for this project, so most of the influences you can perceive are rather unconscious. I’m tired of movie fans winks, fanboy shit and geeky stuff. Someone once told me about a mix between two of Kubrick’s movies: A Clockwork Orange and Eyes Wide Shut. I can understand that, but it wasn’t my goal at all. My editor thought of Caligula, but in a contemporary way. Speaking of myself, I was only remembering the gang members’ looks and attitudes in Walter Hill’s The Warriors, when I was defining AETNA’s activists’ looks and costumes. For the voice-overs’/monologues’ tone and the explicit sex in the background, we can easily think of Gaspar Noé’s works like Carne and I Stand Alone (such a masterpiece!). Something nihilistic, dark, heavy and disillusioned. In my mind, the clearer influence (I told the crew about that) was a couple of Michael Haneke’s shots, cause I wanted some of ours to be very static (almost theatrical) and long. I wanted to experiment on these and stretch their duration out. After some screenings, a part of the audience told me about Funny Games. Maybe they got a point, but that wasn’t running in my head. No doubt about that.

TMSHow long did it take to get out that initial draft?

ADIt was very short, straight from my mind to the page. Like two days. I was working on it at the same time I was writing the speech for my cousin’s funeral (R.I.P. Antoine…).

TMSHow much did the script change over the course of the next few drafts? 

ADThere were not many drafts. The main changes were in some monologues’ lines and a few pieces of dialogue, after a reading session with the main actors (Arnaud Bronsart, Bertrand Leplae and Pascal Gruselle - Kevin Dudjasienski didn’t want to meet the others before shooting, in order to prepare for his role -).

TMSHow long of a shoot was it?

ADWe shot for 5 days. A one night shooting for the video clip sequence (the activists walking in the streets, in a parking lot, etc.), a day for AETNA’s activists’ den and 3 days in a big villa for the main part of the movie.

TMSThere’s something mesmerizing about Kevin Dudjasienski, his look and his voice. How was he selected? And how were the other main actors selected?

ADI wrote this character thinking of Kevin Dudjasienski. If he didn’t like the script and accept to play this role (Kel, AETNA’s leader), the whole project would have been flushed. It wouldn’t have been possible without him, his presence and charisma. I was looking for an actor with the caliber to lead Cruelle est la nuit. I have known Kevin for years (through other filmmakers’ works, a couple of friends and some of my jobs as 1st A.D.) and was seeking the right opportunity to collaborate with him. I like his voice (he’s a great singer too) and his intensity. He also has a lot of mystery coming from him. He’s a real method actor and he prepares for his roles as they did at the Actors Studio or according to Lee Strasberg’s theories. It’s pretty impressive to watch him on set. The way he walks, talks, gets in condition before shooting… I won’t give you his tricks but you can imagine some of them. 

It’s different for the rest of the cast. I knew most of them, with the exception of Pascal Gruselle (the shady politician). He’s worked with Daphnée Beaulieux and Erwan Simon from the Squid Lab (the workshop which has created the so nice Cruelle est la nuit’s special effects, all made on set) and they told me about him. Pascal has already had a big career (he plays in Michel Blanc’s Marche à l’ombre, in Bleeders, a B-movie with Rutger Hauer, etc.) and is a great dubbing comedian too. Arnaud Bronsart (Arno, the activist wearing a red bandana) is a totally underestimated actor in Belgian cinema. Nevertheless, he’s really talented and everything looks natural with him. He acts like he breaths and he’s so good at improvising. Be sure to remember his name. Bertrand Leplae (Sid, the activist with the baseball bat) is more like a commercial's actor. I wanted to push him as far as I can, in order for him to let himself go and lose control. I wanted to break his habits and make him reach another level of conscious and acting. I think he turned out okay and his character is often the audience’s favorite. I was proud of him. As for the rest, I knew Sabrina Sweet as a sex performer (she was a famous french pornstar) and have detected something inside her. She has a great temperament and acting skills. I knew that she needed to have this to face Kevin Dudjasienski. Not to waste anything, in real life, she’s so adorable, lovely and kind to everyone. And Pierre Nisse (the jolly fellow wearing a bow tie naked, in the middle of the orgy) is so atypical in the Belgian movie industry’s landscape. He has something very special and precious. He was the only one capable of doing this. He’s fascinating…

TMSThe film contains non-simulated sex scenes. What made you decide to go that route? And how easy was it to find actors to agree to perform on camera? Where there any challenges in filming the orgy scenes?

ADI wanted to gather a real heterogeneous cast like in some exploitation movie from the 70’s. I was interested in mixing traditional actors with real libertines (they’re most of the extras) and non-simulated sex. This was the key to achieve Cruelle est la nuit and to remain faithful to my original ideas. I didn’t want to pull down my pants, even if these explicit sex acts are excluded for some festivals. Cruelle… is a genre short film with some explicit sex. It’s a twisted home invasion, not a porn movie. It was difficult to find libertines or swingers to fuck in front of a camera (even wearing a mask), because everyone on this set (actors, technicians…) was voluntary. This was the real challenge. Finally, we got some libertines from Liège, an amateur porn star (a guy playing in Jacquie et Michel videos and Marc Dorcel’s), a beautiful chick fulfilling her fantasy (doing it in front of camera), an amazing dominatrix, etc. We filmed this wild party scene with two cameras - not turning them off during more than 20 minutes - and two sound recordists, in order to get as more shots as we could.

TMSCan you talk a little bit about the opening monologues from the trio of anarchists. Where did that idea come from? Was it specifically referencing a film or where you trying to emulate the look of a stage play?

ADYou get it. It was more to emulate the look of a stage play or a sort of video game feeling. Something a bit distanced but revealing many elements about AETNA’s activists. It shows their motivations or even their psychology in a short time. And of course, it sets the mood for the rest of the movie.

TMSIn terms of directing choices, anyone that you try to emulate? Or ones that have influenced you?

ADNot really. It’s already tricky to edge up to his personal style, even more when you’re a journalist (film critic) and movie lover like me. Maybe John Carpenter in his way to use Scope (2.35 format)? It’s a bit presumptuous to say this. He’s so good at playing with rhythm, space and tension. He’s a genius.

TMSHow did you go about selecting and securing your locations?

ADWe were looking for three different locations. For the night shots in the streets, the producer suggested that we should shoot in Liège (his wife and him come from this city) and we did. I was convinced by some location scouting pics he took. Chris Marcus (the guy who’s composed the electronic credits track and a wonderful song for our trailer) told me about a place in Brussels that we could rent and where we were able to recreate AETNA’s activists’ headquarters. But for Stavros’ house, we had to find a very specific place. It has to have many rooms (in order to shoot all the interiors on the spot), to be spacious (the whole crew, the catering and the equipment had to stay there for 3 days) and look a bit kitschy or opulent. It was difficult to find the right spot. We did a lot of research and visited some places (in Brussels and Wallonia) before finding this villa in the South side of the country. Luckily, our set designer and props woman had heard of this place. She really saved the day.

TMSDid you storyboard in advance or choose the angles and shot locations on set?

ADA few sequences were story-boarded by Sébastien Thielens but most of them weren’t. On the other hand, we were sufficiently prepared and the shot(s) list was quite precise. We had to film numerous shots and consequently get rid of some of these on the set. This was a bit painful but it was too ambitious for a 5 days shooting. We had to focus on the essential. You know, most of the short films are a bit fragile and have a weak economy.

TMSThe editing is terrific. Can you talk about what you were trying to achieve and how closely you worked with your editor during the editing process.

ADOn some aspects, we wanted the editing to be sharp, dynamic and precise: to come from a place to another, but not losing any character. But it also had to remain narratively understandable while becoming a little sensorial. Julien Jauniaux (the editor) was a great addition to Cruelle est la nuit. He provided it with the right direction and energy. He impulsed many things. My hat goes off to him.

TMSCan you talk a little bit about the score. How closely did you work with the composers?

ADI gave them indications but they were relatively free. The soundtrack has to be stressful and heavy, resonating with what’s going on screen and the whole poisonous atmosphere. I like electronic music (as other kinds) and using it seemed obvious. Klem Logan composed all the original soundtrack and has a more digital way of working (shall I say dematerialised?), whereas Chris Marcus - the man behind the credits and trailer tracks - is more in an analog vein.

TMSLow budget film productions have been historically known for being difficult and demanding. How was this production on the cast and crew? Any challenges or funny stories?

ADAs I said, every person involved in Cruelle est la nuit was a volunteer, but I had a tremendous crew. The 3 days at the villa were extremely exhausting. We had too many shots to put on the box and had to film most of the crucial sequences (including the SFX and the sex acts). Every day, we worked from 9.00 a.m. till 3.00 or 4.00 a.m. the other day. Speaking of myself, I slept only half an hour a night. At the end of the shooting, I was like a zombie, drinking lots of energy drinks to stay up… The assistant directors must have forced the DOP (Nicolaos Zafiriou), the cameraman (Benjamin Liberda) and me to go to the catering area to eat something. We were only thinking of what we had to achieve. At the very end, the key grip (Nicolas Martiny) and the key electrician (Gil Renard) threatened to leave with the two trucks (containing all the equipment)… It was a way to put the pressure on me, because I was pushing people beyond their limits. It was very late and we still had to shoot the final sequence with the bodymount camera tied to Kevin Dudjasienski. Happily, we were able to do it, otherwise, we would not have any conclusion to our short film.

TMSIs there anything you learned from making the movie?

ADIt made me wanna work on the next one!

TMSIf the movie was playing as one-half of a double feature at a Drive-in theatre what would be the perfect support feature?

ADWow, tricky question. Maybe Gaspar Noé’s I Stand Alone or A Clockwork Orange? Or the first Michael Haneke’s Funny Games?

TMSIf you had a choice to remake a genre movie, what movie would you like to remake?

ADI usually don’t like remakes. When I love movies, I’m a bit protective. It’s a sort of movie lover’s reflex. So I’d say Jess Franco’s Female Vampire to offer a modern and more narrative (well-kept) version, but keeping the erotic and bizarre aspects. It would be a weird remake, even more feminist and sensual than the original. I really like Franco’s work (like 99 Women, Vampyros Lesbos or The Evil Countess), but Female Vampire is sometimes too loose. To avoid the question, I could say adapting Peter Sotos’ Selfish, Little for the big screen. It would be a true nightmare to succeed and get money to do it.

TMSYour film recently screened at BUFF. How has the response been so far on the festival circuit?

ADTo date, the response has been very positive, even if the sex and violence included in our short is excluded for some fests (sometimes, these are the biggest). It’s difficult to categorize Cruelle est la nuit and defining its rating. It depends on every country’s standards. Besides, it’s not really a horror movie, a thriller or an erotic flick, it’s more like a mix between various elements and genres. I’m starting to think of the next one and it will be the same… Woe is me! So far, Cruelle est la nuit got 33 selections around the globe (USA, Latin America, UK, Germany, Canada, Italy, France…) for 6 awards or mentions won. And we hope it’s not over yet. Of course, we’re grateful to BUFF to show our work in Boston. It was a blast!

TMSWhat are some films that you’ve recently seen that you would recommend?

ADLet The Bodies Tan by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani is my 2017’s favorite. It’s a great experience, like a sensorial trip, very exciting, catchy and erotic. I loved We Are the Flesh just as much. It’s a great Mexican movie: an incestuous love story between a sister and a brother, sucked into a world of darkness by a strange old man. It’s beyond description, but it’s a true jewel and it stars the so gorgeous María Evoli. She’s nothing less than fascinating and outstanding. A hell of an actress! I also liked Sion Sono’s Antiporno, which is a deconstruction of a pink movie (it’s part of Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno’s new wave) and could be screened in contemporary art museums, as well as Under the Shadow (an Iranian haunted house movie, sensitive and dealing with social criticism), Tragedy Girls (a wonderful meta-slasher with a social networks background, furiously pop and cruel, led by two magnificent actresses) and Caniba, an almost experimental documentary about the cannibal Issei Sagawa and his shady brother… so powerful and grabbing!

TMSAre there any plans to make a feature length film?

ADMaybe, but it’s a perilous undertaking. I’m no match for writing it alone, even if I’ve got some ideas. That’s a tough job. I hope I’ve found the right guy to collaborate with.

TMSCan you tell us anything about the other projects that you are working on or planning on working on? Or, anything else that you would like to plug?

ADI should direct a web series episode (Samy Kazi should direct the first one and me, the second). It’ll be an offbeat comedy about sexual disorders and fetishisms. That’ll be funny, poetic and even absurd or sometimes offensive. The project is brought by the actors Sarah Woestyn and Pierre Nisse. They are the main creative forces on this one. I also got plans on preparing a new short film (that should be my last effort before thinking of a feature). I’ve met my co-writer. We’ve talked about this and that. I’ve got many visions running through my head. It’ll be a story of love and incest in the Belgian Ardennes. I don’t wanna say more, cause we haven’t written a single line yet.