Rodrigue Huart is a French indie filmmaker who has previously worked in the music video and documentary field but has now moved towards shorts with his brand new film 'Transylvanie' about a young girl who wants to prove to her bullies that she is in fact a vampire.
'Transylvanie' recently received its World Premiere at the 27th Annual Fantasia International Film Festival, one of the world's biggest genre film festivals. The film debuted during at the Small Gauge Trauma programme, Fantasia’s international showcase of cutting-edge genre featuring ten films from five countries that positively astonish.
We recently caught up with Rodrigue to discuss the short film, the inspirations behind the character and premise, and what's next for him after Fantasia.
FC: Why a vampire film? And what made you want to tell this particular story about a young girl?
RH: On one hand, I’ve always been passionate about teen movies. On the other hand, 'Martin', directed by George A. Romero, is a film that really stuck with me since I’ve seen it for the first time, maybe 10 years ago. I especially love the first act in which you follow a lonely teenager molesting women and drinking their blood in a very strange and deranged manner. Those scenes are particularly disturbing because you have no idea if you are watching a fantastic film, following a vampire’s journey, or if you are watching a realistic psycho killer movie. That idea stuck me as a very powerful way to explore the complex feelings of a teenager struggling to fit in. 4 years ago, I just finished writing a coming of age TV series bible, when I got this idea of a young child convinced of being a vampire, a concept at the crossroad of what I was interested in at this time. I’ve been pretty lucky in school, I’ve never been bullied. But this concept resonated with me in the sense that I think we kind of all wear disguises when we are young teenagers. I started a rock band when I was around 14. Being a rocker was kind of a disguise that helped shape my identity. Ewa is kind of doing the same thing with her fantasy of being a vampire, using it to express her feelings her way.
FC: There will be obvious comparisons to ‘Let The Right One In’ because of the setting and age of the main character but was there any specific inspiration from outside the genre that helped guide you?
RH: 'Let the Right One In' is a pure masterpiece, no question. But I haven’t seen it since I started working on 'Transylvanie' because I wanted to find my own voice even though the setting and the age of Ewa is the same as the main character. So, to be honest, I wouldn’t really quote it as an inspiration. Actually, 'The Other' (Robert Mulligan, 1972) had a strong influence on me during the writing. In this film, I love how Mulligan turned innocent child games into horror scenes. It sets an unsettling feeling I tried to translate to the scenes in 'Transylvanie'. In term of camera work and directing, as I am a big fan of J-Horror from the 00’s, I come back a lot to the work of Hideo Nakata and Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who manage to set such a tense, bleak and ghostly vibe to their films with very little. Those directors are working carefully on little details to make it all work so beautifully, from the cinematography to the use of sound design. That’s the kind of approach I wanted to go for. That’s why, even though those films have nothing in common in terms of storytelling, I rewatched 'Kaïro' and 'Dark Waters' during the prep.
FC: Was horror always a genre you felt passionate about? What horror films did you most enjoy growing up?
RH: I’ve seen 'Funny Games' when I was around 13, alone in my parents’s computer room, that was a thing back then, on a pretty bad Divx copy, after hearing a friend at school talking about how shocking this film was. I think there’s no better way to sell a film to a teenager than that. I was obsessed about watching this film. The feeling that this movie left me on was something I didn’t expect and that I never experienced before. It’s hard to put words on it because it’s a film that is devastating at so many levels. I remember thinking about the film for days after the viewing. I think at this moment I knew that was the kind of unique and everlasting feelings I would chase, among others, of course, in my cinematic exploration. I also remember very vividly Alexandre Aja’s 'Haute Tension' and 'The Hills Have Eyes' remake, which I think are the horror films I’ve seen the most during my young years. Those are fast paced and action packed horror films, very entertaining and disturbing at the same time. I still love those films, even though, maybe the ending plot twist aspect of 'Haute Tension' may feel a bit old school nowadays.
FC: Despite the short runtime, you manage to pack in quite a lot of drama and a fruitful amount of character work. How challenging was it to know what to include and what to refrain from showing?
RH: In the last versions of the script, there was more back story about Ewa. But the more we were getting close to the shooting, the more we took away from the script. We had six days to shoot and as the film is very visually driven, we wanted, with Julien Ramirez Hernan (DOP), to have enough time to work properly on each location to give the film the visual impact it needed. In order to do so, we had to cut and cut and cut. The rehearsals with Katell made me confident about those choices because I felt her performance would be strong enough so the viewers will be able to engage with the character with only very few details about her actual life. In some kind of strange way, it felt like each time we would cut something out it would make the character even more mysterious and interesting. That process went on during the editing with Marco Novoa, during which we kept on cutting every scene or shot that would have been in the way of our goal; make the viewer dive into Ewa’s troubled mind.
FC: Where exactly did you shoot it and were you faced with any difficult challenges during the production?
RH: We shot in Rennes, in Brittany. On challenge for sure was to make the ending scene as intense as it could get. In this scene, we want the viewer to be very scared for Ewa, feeling the height and the danger. To make it work with our budget and shooting schedule, we had, with Julien and Manu Marx (1st AD), to story-board it over and over to chose the best shots to go for, finding our way between what we could actually get on set (or with the VFX team) and the most efficient way to visually tell that bit. In the end, for some shots of this scene, we went for very cheap DIY tricks. An other challenge for me was the big dialogue scene with Ewa, Hugo and Gwen in the middle of the film. In this scene, Ewa is going through quite an emotional ride that leads to the climax. That’s why this scene was the main focus of the rehearsals. We took a lot of time to find the fine tunings needed to make the dramatic build up work.
FC: Katell Varvat is a revelation in this. Had you worked with young children before and can you tell me what your approach to directing the children was with this film.
RH: It was actually the first time I directed kids. I wanted the vibe on set to be very chilled and cheerful. We are telling a sad and in some ways, troubling and intense story, but I wanted, especially working with kids, the production to be a good and fun time. In this atmosphere, it was easier for me to gain the cast’s trust, to be able to ask them to go for it without restraining anything in the most dark and intense parts of the film. The first time I met Katell, she was a revelation for me too. For the casting of Ewa, we always started with a reading of the first lines of the film, which are a re-interpretation of a quote of Bram Stoker’s 'Dracula'. Katell got it straight away, playing perfectly with the innocence of her childish voice tone to make those deep and solemn lines playful and weirdly disturbing at the same time. That’s a balance we’ve been playing with in every scene. One of the main directions was to make Ewa behave as a very old vampire that have seen it all, playing with the classic trope of the depressed and romantic immortal soul. It is this young girl’s way to protect herself from her actual loneliness and melancholy. And that’s why Ewa is very unflappable most of the time. I think that makes the moments in which we can perceive her troubled hidden feelings even more heart breaking.
FC: The final sequence is shocking and ambiguous, at least at first. Was that ending always the end you had in mind or did you go back and forth at any point?
RH: I knew from the beginning I wanted something really impactful and disturbing for the ending, but with David Alexander Cassan and Axel Würsten (co-writers), we went back and forth about it, struggling to find the right balance, from more evocative to even more hardcore versions of this ending. Few weeks before the shooting, we were about to go for a more evocative version, but as we were starting rehearsals, it felt more and more that a very radical ending was needed. As the film is kind of a twisted and weird love story, I wanted to leave the viewers with a very ambiguous note, as you pointed out, capturing in one scene the purest form of horror and the tenderness of a little girl desperate for love. And for this to happen in the most powerful way possible, it felt like the more disturbing that scene would be, the more we would get closer to that ambition and the more Ewa would come out iconic, scary and moving.
FC: Was there (or is there still) any part of you that might want to expand the story and make ‘Transylvanie’ into a feature film? It feels like it could work well.
RH: I’m actually working on a feature film project about a disturbed teenager called Ewa. I wouldn’t really call it a sequel to 'Transylvanie', even though I want Katell Varvat to play her character again. My new Ewa is not obsessed by vampires anymore, but about creepypastas. And she’s diving into this internet lore so deeply that reality and fantasy are merging in her mind, making her doing the craziest things… But for sure, Transylvanie set the tone. I want to continue to explore that way of making the viewer moved and scared at the same time. To translate that feel to a feature is one of my next challenges.
FC: Fantastic Rodrigue. We can't wait to see that and best of luck on the festival circuit with 'Transylvanie'
'Transylvanie' received it's World Premiere at Fantasia '23 on August 2nd