The last couple of years, many talented Belgian directors have risen from the ashes of a brain-dead film industry. People like Karakatsanis, Mortier and Balthazar reshaped the image of Belgian cinema, but few of them were able to confirm their talent with a second film. Enter Fabrice Du Welz, front-runner of this new wave of directors, who does more than simply confirm his status with Vinyan.
Director Du Welz is aiming high. Calvaire granted him a little international praise, which he took and exploited to make his second film a larger, international enterprise. He rounded up a team with superb credentials, found a couple of willing and respected actors and shipped them all to Thailand to set his new film against the background of the tsunami. So long backwood villages in the Ardennes, hello international stage.
Expectations for Du Welz' new film have been all over the place. Some buzz talked about a new horror/gore fest, some people were put off by the simple dramatic back story. Not too surprising, considering Vinyan is a film about a couple in Thailand, looking for their son who got lost in the tsunami. It could easily have turned into a 90-minute dramatic borefest, Du Welz makes sure this idea is obliterated from the very first second.
As you're watching the opening credits, with its bold and overly huge text, you know Vinyan will not be your average feature. Vinyan immediately links itself to Gaspar Noé's Irreversible, which comes as no surprise with Debie handling the visuals. Certainly one of the most talented cinematographers today, Debie gives his all here. From the magnificent opening shot underwater, until the iconic finale, the film is always stunning, capturing a hell hidden away underneath the idyllic façade of Thailand.
Debie's work is intense, filming a lot from the hand, but with plenty of strong and wonderfully framed images in between. As our couple gets more and more estranged from each other and their environment, the film gets more and more intense, working its way up through several climaxes. It starts off pretty timid, with only a few visual shocks in the first half of the film (the bar scene in particular, reminiscent again of Debie's Club Rectum scene), but as the halfway point is passed, there are really no more comfortable moments left for the audience.
Matching Debie's genius is the music of composer Chanfrault. His work in Switchblade Romance and Inside was already an indication of his talent, with Vinyan he goes all the way. Many scenes are accompanied by rising guitar drones climaxing into deafening pools of white noise. It adds heaps to the already tense atmosphere of the film, though its less than accessible nature might alienate some of the more timid movie goers. Still, all praise for Du Welz for making such bold and daring choices.
As the couple runs off on a wild hunch to find their son, they begin their slow decent into hell. Probably the only element that really links this film to Du Welz' earlier work. Both Sewell and Béart turn in great performances, bringing pain, humanity and insanity to their quest for relief. They might not be the most respected actors in their field, but they prove themselves very worthy.
The climax of the film is grand, leaving you with a couple of images that will be burned into your mind for a good while to come. Ultimately Vinyan is a bleak film about a couple destroyed by hope, but underneath that basic layer are many other interpretations linked to the meaning of the word vinyan (which is something like a meandering, vengeful ghost). How much you care about this is entirely up to you, it's Du Welz' overwhelming direction that gives birth to the experience of the film, working even at the most basic level.
Vinyan might have some problems finding its audience. People expecting a second Calvaire will be disappointed, people expecting a solid drama will be disappointed, people expecting a character study will be disappointed. But whatever your expectations, Vinyan will stay with you. It's an experience not easily forgotten, tailored to perfection by Du Welz and his team. It's brooding, intense and filled with individuality.