(THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER) SIFF: How Belgian Drama ‘The Chapel’ Connected With a Young Chinese Audience
Oscar-nominated Belgian director Dominique Deruddere believes the shared and universal fear of failure has helped his new film The Chapel resonate with the audience at the 25th Shanghai International Film Festival, where it is in the running for the main Golden Goblet award.
“I feel that the young people everywhere today relate to that feeling of having to perform, having to be the best in everything they do, and the fears that brings,” says Deruddere. “I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it is about liberation from that and how to simply be yourself.”
Deruddere first caught international attention back in 2000 when he picked up an Oscar nomination in the foreign language category for Everybody’s Famous!, a film that tore chunks out of the contemporary music scene and its (apparently) manipulated star system.
With The Chapel, Deruddere is back into the world of music but there’s a far different milieu being explored. The film sets its story around a music competition where the entrants are locked away in a house together, to practice and then eventually to perform.
It’s based on an actual event held for classical musicians in Belgium — the Queen Elisabeth Competition — which sets its entrants up in a house (known as The Chapel) where they train. From that foundation, Deruddere says he explored the psychological — and physical — stresses that might bring if the situation was pushed to its outermost extremes.
“They isolate these people from the outside world, no cell phone allowed and no computers around. Nothing,” explains Deruddere. “Then they have seven days to study before performing so, to me, that sounds like an ideal place to set a psychological drama-slash-thriller. It’s just a suspenseful situation, and then you can surround it by the music.”
Deruddere admits to “opening the champagne” when he heard The Chapel would be in the running for the Golden Goblet award — and it sounds a bit like the party has continued ever since.
Fresh from the screening of his new film, Deruddere says he is still buzzing by the reaction from a full house in Shanghai that seems to have caught him by surprise.
“They were just so enthusiastic about the film, and this was a situation where we were really not sure what to expect, to be honest,” says Deruddere. “I have a feeling that the young people here really connected to that side of the story — you know, to be a happy person, not somebody that’s always thinking about your career.”
Lead actress Taeke Nicolai and producer Bart Van Langendonck joined the director on stage for a Q&A following the screening of The Chapel, where Nicolai was quizzed about the actual training she had to commit to in order to convincingly play an emerging piano virtuoso.
“She studied for three months to get to language of movement on the piano right,” explains Deruddere. “There’s such a depth to her performance and audiences have really taken to this.”
While the lead character has to face the pressure of her looming performances, Deruddere’s script adds some previous traumas that are triggered by the experience to build tension. But real-life graduates of the Queen Elisabeth Competition have been quick to stress that the film is pure fiction, including acclaimed Czech pianist Lukáš Vondráček, a winner of the competition’s 2016 edition.
“I loved my time at the Chapel,” Vondráček told the competition’s website, for an article on the film. “Above all the evenings with a glass of whiskey which we sneaked 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 environment.”
After a domestic run in Belgium back 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).