Oscar-nominated Belgian director Dominique Deruddere believes the shared and universal fear of failure helped his new film The chapel resonate with the audience on the 25e Shanghai International Film Festival, where it is in the running for the Golden Goblet top prize.
“I feel like the young people everywhere today are related to that sense of having to achieve, to be the best at everything they do, and the fears that come with it,” says Deruddere. “I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it’s about liberation from that and how to just be yourself.”
Deruddere first attracted international attention in 2000 when he received an Oscar nomination for Everyone is famous!a movie that ripped chunks out of today’s music scene and its (apparently) manipulated galaxy.
Of The chapel, Deruddere is back in the music world, but a completely different milieu is being explored. The film is set around a music competition in which the contestants are locked in a house together to practice and eventually perform.
It is based on a true event for classical musicians in Belgium – the Queen Elisabeth Competition – where the participants are housed in a house (known as The Chapel) where they train. From that foundation, Deruddere says he’s explored the psychological — and physical — tensions that can arise when the situation is pushed to its limits.
“They isolate these people from the outside world, no cell phones allowed and no computers around. Nothing,” explains Deruddere. “Then they have seven days to study before performing, so that seems like an ideal place to shoot a psychological drama-slash-thriller. It’s just an exciting situation, and then you can surround it with the music.”
Deruddere admits he “opened the champagne” when he heard it The chapel would be in the running for the Golden Goblet award – and it kind of sounds like the party has continued ever since.
Fresh from the screening of his new film, Deruddere says he is still buzzing with a reaction from a packed house in Shanghai that seems to have taken him by surprise.
“There were just so many excited about the movie, and this was a situation where we weren’t really sure what to expect, to be honest,” says Deruddere. “I feel like the young people here are really connected to that side of the story — you know, to be a happy person, not someone who’s always thinking about your career.”
Leading actress Taeke Nicolai and producer Bart Van Langendonck joined the director on stage for a Q&A following the screening of The chapelwhere Nicolai was questioned about the actual training she needed to get to convincingly play an emerging piano virtuoso.
“She studied for three months to develop movement language on the right piano,” explains Deruddere. “There’s such depth to her performance and the audience is really into this.”
While the main character has to deal with the pressure of her menacing performances, Deruddere’s script adds some past traumas brought on by the experience to build its suspense. But real-life graduates of the Queen Elisabeth Competition have been quick to emphasize that the film is pure fiction, including acclaimed Czech pianist Lukáš Vondráček, a winner of the 2016 edition.
“I enjoyed my time in the Chapel,” Deruddere told the competition’s website for an article about the film. “Especially the evenings with a glass of whiskey that we sniffed in and the camaraderie among the finalists. Artists need time away from ‘civilization’ to be alone with their thoughts and draw inspiration from silence and nature. That is one of the reasons I loved the Chapel and its peaceful surroundings.”
After a domestic flight in Belgium in February, The chapel has so far been sold by Germany’s Picture Tree International to South Korea (Happy Song), Spain (Vercine) and Bulgaria (Beta Film).