|by:||Sep 4, 2000|
Director/writer: Denis Villeneuve * Producer: Roger Frappier
* Cinematographer: Andre Turpin
* Diary by: Mark Dillon
Montreal-based director Denis Villeneuve follows up August 32nd on Earth with Maelstrom, which opens this year's Perspective Canada series at the Toronto International Film Festival. The French-language Maelstrom bears some resemblance to the director's previous film: both focus on a female character whose life is altered by a car crash.
In the case of Maelstrom, the story concerns a woman who instigates a hit-and-run and only later assumes responsibility. She deals with the situation by confronting the family of the stranger she has struck down.
Villeneuve explains that although the theme of guilt plays a part in the story, "I didn't want to make a film about that. Of course, you have to deal with that, but it's more a film about responsibility and [clarity]. Car crashes are the most dramatic events common and closest to us. That's why I'm very interested in them."
A major difference between Maelstrom and its predecessor is the addition of an otherworldly element. "The film is a dark tale," the director says. "One of its subjects is mythology. There's a strange narrator telling the story from a fantasy world. It's a hyper-realistic film, but it goes very close to fantasy at some points."
Spring 1998: With post-production on August 32nd winding down, Villeneuve writes the synopsis for Maelstrom. He decides, however, to shelve the project and moves on to other ideas.
"It was too difficult a story," he recollects. "I was asking myself why I would be interested in such a character, because the woman is very far-removed from me, someone who is not sympathetic at the beginning of the film."
Late 1998: Although working on a different screenplay, Villeneuve is haunted by the idea for Maelstrom. He puts his current project aside and resumes work on it. "I decided I would do it, even if I thought it was a bad idea," he says. "My fear was that it was a risky project and maybe it would be my last, because it was a difficult one to do."
With Villeneuve's producer/mentor Roger Frappier awaiting an entirely different script, the writer/director completes the first draft of Maelstrom. "I said to myself, 'This way I will get rid of it - it will be done and Roger will hate it.' But Roger loved it, so I then had a big problem."
January to May 1999: Alliance Atlantis Pictures International comes on as the global distributor. Odeon Films will distribute the film in English Canada, Alliance Atlantis/ Vivafilm in Quebec. Enthusiastic about both the script and Villeneuve's last film, the distributors grant the director total artistic freedom.
In Quebec, sodec becomes a financial partner in February-March, followed by Telefilm Canada in May.
Villeneuve is taken aback by how quickly the money comes together: "I was surprised because it is not a conventional story. It was a risky script, a dark and dramatic story that at the same time is always going through absurdity, and yet sometimes it's funny. It's a very bizarre mood."
Broadcaster Radio-Canada gives the project a pass. According to Villeneuve, "They found it too wild and too dark. They said, 'We have no slot in which to put this film - it's not for our audience.' " Tele-Quebec, on the other hand, is receptive and adds its support. The total budget works out to $3.4 million.
June to August 1999: A long casting process takes place. Although August 32nd starred a high-profile Quebec actress (Pascale Bussieres), this time Villeneuve chooses the lesser-known Marie-Josee Croze.
"For the main character I was looking for someone with a very specific energy," he explains. "I had no commercial pressure from the distributor. They found the script so wild that they just said 'Do what you want.' "
Theatre and tv actor Jean-Nicholas Verrault and Stephanie Morgenstern (The Sweet Hereafter) are also cast.
Preproduction meetings take place.
September to November 1999: Shooting takes place in Montreal.
Late 1999 to winter 2000: Editing begins. After nearly 10 weeks of cutting, Villeneuve, exhausted from the shoot, decides he is unhappy with the results, deletes the work they have done so far, and starts the whole editing process again from scratch. Another 10 weeks of cutting ensues.
May 2000: Sound mixing proceeds smoothly.
August to September 2000: All lab work, including subtitles, is completed. The film is shown in competition at the Montreal World Film Festival before opening Perspective Canada at tiff. *