For me, one of the many highlights of SFIFF58 was seeing Vincent, the new French “superhero” film from dir. Thomas Salvador. Having previously made only a handful of short films, Mr. Salvador took the plunge into feature films with this new wonderfully understated audience charmer, which he directed, wrote, and stars in. I sat down with the funny, polite, and reserved filmmaker to discuss Vincent, which has one more screening this Thursday, 5/7 at 6:15 (info here):
The trailer for Vincent says ‘the first film of French superhero”. Are superheroes just not as popular in France?
Not really <<laughing>>. The superhero movies have a lot of success everywhere. But as there are many, people are a little bit bored. It’s a real US kind of movies. Like westerns. You can’t imagine a superhero outside of United States. It’s a marketing way to present the film. If we think deeply, it’s not a real superhero movie but it was the marketing way to bring people into the theater. <<laughing>>
Well it’s you now. You’re the first! You’re the first European superhero!
I’m not sure that, maybe there have been other people in French films with something special, special gifts. Maybe I’m the first. I didn’t do this movie for that. I did it because I feel it.
How did you decide on water as the source of power?
The water came from a picture I had. Not a picture, but a dream. A vision <<laughing>>. I knew the guy would be in the water but not in the water you’re used to go swimming, like a swimming pool. I visioned an encounter between a guy in a swimming suit and someone who observed him. He’s doing nothing forbidden, nothing bad. But he’s somewhere you’re not used to go swimming so there’s a kind of discovery and the super powers came from the fact that I love movies in which the character does physical things. Musicals. Kung fu films. Action movies. I think in cinema…
You like to actually see it happening.
Yes, I like to see people doing things that don’t do in actual life.
Did you do all your own stunts?
Yes <<laughing>> except one. I shouldn’t say that but I have knees problem because my sport past life. I can’t jump from high so there are one or two shots that are not me but I did most of them.
The practical effects were fantastic. It’s great to watch someone actually doing something on screen that one can’t normally do. Can you give a few hints on how the stunts were managed?
I’m a little bit of a magician so I won’t say too many of my tricks <<laughing>>
Good. Just a few hints.
Yes. I can begin to say why I wanted to do real things on location. Because I want the audience to have proximity with the character. I’m quite sure that even with a two hundred million dollar budget film, there is something you feel that it’s not real. When Superman takes a plane and throws it through a bad guy <<laughing>> You don’t feel the plane. You don’t touch it. I prefer for my low budget movie I prefer Vincent to throw something very small but do it really! To make the audience feel that it’s possible. Vincent is stronger than normal people but not one hundred times more. Just two or three times more.
He can’t lift a house.
Yes, he can’t throw a car. So I wanted the concrete mixer on the car to be real. For instance on that shoot, it’s a real false concrete mixer. It’s 50 kilos instead of 300. And there are two mechanisms in the car, one to break the windshield and the other to push the front down. It’s one shoot. We had only one car <<laughing>> Everything is real. People see it and say ‘ok he did it.’ Everything in water is done exactly as you saw it. But with wires and hydrolics system. You can feel that it’s real water. If it was done digital with a huge budget, you always see its fake water.
One wonderful thing about the movie was that it was very quiet. There was rarely any music and not a lot of dialogue. And there wasn’t a lot of explanation for why Vincent is the way he is. It was nice just accepting everything as it is shown. Was that what you were going for?
Maybe the best way to make people believe is not to explain! <<laughing>> If you begin to explain then you have a lot of questions. For me its like in real life, you can have a lover or good friend and you don’t spend your life asking questions. You just feel the other. You spend time with them. What Vincent does or doesn’t do is more. In the movies, you can never know much about a character than when he acts. When he does things and moves. For instance, when the friend of Vincent is in a fight, you can learn a lot about Vincent without any dialogue. He doesn’t escape. He doesn’t fight the others, because he’s a no violent guy. But he takes a risk to show his secret but he doesn’t have to speak about himself. The way he acts is “great speak”.
His actions speak. It reminded me of silent films of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin where you’d get so much just by seeing where they go and what they do, and how they interact with people.
Yes. You can be close to a character and have empathy without the character ever talking. In the first script there was some explanation. But if there is one, you must have ten explanations. The audience wants more. So I decided to give no one except the sequence when he speaks with the girl. I decided to put the explanation within little details. Not historical. He never speaks in generalizations, just little details.
Like the hand. Or the foot.
Yes. Then the audience…or spectator? You say this?
Spectator? Yes, or audience. Viewer.
I’m practicing for my Q&A <<laughing>>
You’re doing great.
Yes, the audience could imagine the other questions but I just need to shoot one. Figurative style. Like in literature, you just talk about one small thing and it results in more.
So any plans for a sequel? Vincent 2?
<<laughing>> Vincent in Canada. Someone who cuts the trees?
Like a lumberjack?
<<laughing>> Yes, with, um, the flannel. A lot of people are asking me that. For me the proof is that they enjoy the character and want to see more.
That’s what superheroes do these days.
Yes, they must have a prequels and sequels. Reboots. <<laughing>> My next film is very different. But maybe in five years. I hope it won’t take me eight years to do my next film.
Did Vincent take eight years?!
How long was the shoot?
And maybe after my next picture. As we have a low budget and very short time to prepare for the film, we missed a lot of shooting. A lot of special effects could barely be good. If the opportunity to do magical tricks with the water, it could be good.
Well congratulations on the film and your U.S. premiere.
Yes, thank you. I hope it will be good.
Well, it’s sold out.
You think there will be people?
Yes. It’s sold out. People will be waiting outside for extra tickets.
Oh. Oh no. Maybe you should not tell me this <<laughing>>