The Monk
The Monk @ GFF 2012

GFF 2012: Director Dominik Moll in Interview

We speak to Dominik Moll, who brings his adaptation of Matthew Lewis’s classic gothic tale to Glasgow
Feature by Jamie Dunn.
Published 18 February 2012

Since 1987’s Le gynécologue et sa secrétaire, German born French filmmaker Dominik Moll has only made five features. It’s a more industrious production schedule than Terrence Malick, for sure, but it’s good to have his work back on the big screen nevertheless.

Based on Matthew Lewis’s Gothic novel of the same name, The Monk stars Vincent Cassel in a nifty bit of against-type casting as Ambrosio, an orphan who is taken in by an order of monks as a baby and grows up to become one of their most devout sons of God – that is until a malevolent force enters the monastery and the bodice-ripping begins.

We spoke to the director ahead of The Monk’s screening at Glasgow Film Festival.

Did you always have Vincent Cassel in mind for Ambrosio?
Each time I write a screenplay I try not to think about the actors during the writing process and I’ve never written a part for a particular actor. But we started to think about who could possibly be Ambrosio, and when Vincent’s name came up I felt that it was a very interesting and intriguing idea, especially because I haven’t seen him in that kind of part – he’s more used to parts where he’s quite physical. This was something much more restrained and I thought it was interesting to take this actor who is so full of energy and bring this energy level down, because the character is someone who puts the lid of religion on all of his compulsions and all of his emotions.

You seem to have made some changes from the original book.
Yes, quite a few. In the book you can feel that Matthew Lewis, the author, really wrote it in order to show the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church and so the character of Ambrosio is quite different in the book from the film because he’s very full of himself, right from the beginning. People really admire him and you feel that his faith is not very strong and that he's mainly interested in the effect he has on people and so when he’s confronted with temptation he doesn’t really resist, he says, “yeah sure, I’ll have that.” I mean, at one point he becomes this guy who wants to fuck all the women around him. I thought it was really enjoyable in the book, but for the film I wanted to show somebody whose faith was real and the fact that he had been abandoned as a child – there was something lacking in his life and that leads to all sorts of tragic aspects.

So your film is less of an attack on religion?
I don’t think it attacks Catholic faith at all really. I mean, the point the film maybe makes about faith is that you cannot just fill your life only with faith or only with the love of God. If you do that, something is not quite right.

Were there any filmmakers you were thinking of while making the film?
There were quite a lot of influences from the silent era, films by Murnau, be it Nosferatu or Faust, which also have to do with someone selling his soul, but also films like Hitchcock’s Vertigo, or Brian De Palma’s Obsession because of their very dreamlike quality. The image style was influenced by Black Narcissus, by Michael Powell, which also has to do with religion. All these films have some quality that gives them quite an artificial look — they are not realistic. That’s why I like them.

You don’t seem to be the most prolific of filmmakers. Is that by choice or does it just take that long to get the funding etc?
It’s true, I make a film every five or six years, and I don’t know, I’d like to do more but it’s not as if I have a drawer full of projects and I can’t find financing. It’s just that I’m quite slow at finding the right idea, and then bringing it to maturity. Sometimes I work on something for over a year and then suddenly I feel I don’t believe in it anymore, so I throw it away and have to start all over again. I really have to believe in what I’m doing 100% and that just takes time.