May 23, 2024

A vampire with qualms about killing to survive is no longer a figure exclusive to the “Twilight” franchise, when a Canadian French-language debut places a teenage girl in a tricky situation, torn between what the world demands of her and what she herself wants. The film’s title is eloquent enough — “Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person” — and it already won Ariane Louis-Seize the best director prize at this year’s Venice Days, and was praised for a “strong directorial vision.” The film screened as part of the main competition at the Thessaloniki Film Festival last week.

“Humanist Vampire” is a contemporary gothic tale, a coming-of-age story, and a comedy-drama all at the same time. It stars Sara Montpetit of Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight entry “Falcon Lake” as the fanged protagonist, Sasha, and Félix-Antoine Bénard as the consenting suicidal person, Paul. Louis-Seize co-wrote the script together with Christine Doyon and the producers are Jeanne-Marie Poulain and Line Sander Egede of the Montreal-based company Art et Essai.

The film, which Variety critic Jessica Kiang described as “a good-natured, dark-tinged, teen rom-com,” is at heart a playful take on the human condition.

“‘Playful’ is a key word for me,” she says, speaking to Variety in Thessaloniki, “and I saw the vampire story as a playground to explore deeper human themes.” Since hybridity was already part and parcel of the plot, mixing registers and tone was one of the draws for her. The film is both gothic and comedic, inspired by various genres. “I wanted to make a deadpan comedy, but I also liked mumblecore, coming of age, and vampire tales. All that amounted to something unique, that made me feel freer in the writing process.”

Together with Doyon, Louis-Seize wrote every line in the script together, over Zoom, during the pandemic. “Co-writing can be amazing, if you find a good match. Since you are each other’s first audience, you can test jokes and find what works.” That’s how they arrived at the central character, a 62-year-old vampire presenting as a teenage girl.

There are certain parallels between vampire and teenage struggles that ended up inspiring the film: whether it’s biting or having sex for the first time, it’s awkward. The film makes use of the metaphor of the Other to link the two. “When you realize you’re different, you still have to find a way to be yourself, in a world that tells you ‘no,’” says the director. “To a teenager, everything is both frightening and exciting, which is why I like testing this thin line and intense emotions. You get to learn what your boundaries are, and for that, you need to cross them.”

In her short films up to now, Louis-Seize zoomed in on women protagonists, mostly teenagers, which means she works predominantly with young actors. “Perhaps I like it because they are very open, but I really connect with young adults. I think it’s also because my own teenage years were troubled,” she says, laughing.

The film strikes a tonal balance thanks to the on-screen chemistry between Sasha and Paul. The director was searching for a particular fit between two actors who would be awkward, funny, and intuitive with one another. “I saw my characters right away, in both Sara and Felix-Antoine,” she says. “When I auditioned them together, they were like two small animals trying to understand each other.” In her rehearsal work with the pair, Louis-Seize discussed at length how a vampire would move and how they would talk: whether protracted or hasty, “everything was all about the right rhythm.”

In Sasha, Louis-Seize sees a relatable female protagonist without the patriarchal trappings. “I like female characters who break down their barriers and just be themselves, but not in a ‘male-character’ kind of way. We can connect with them because they are embracing their vulnerability, which is not a bad thing,” she adds.

“Humanist Vampire” couples two outsiders, but the director was wary of one particular cliche. “It’s romantic, but it’s not a love story,” she says. “I see it as one of soulmates. That’s why I didn’t include a sex scene nor even a kiss, since it’s not about physical desire, rather a thirst for human connection.”

Louis-Seize’s upcoming project is also relationship-themed, even though quite different. She’s co-writing the script for a French-language feature based on a contemporary theater play about people who decide to disappear, leaving their old lives and relatives behind. “It’s a tragedy, but the characters are colorful and funny, so there’s some humor in it as well,” she says. Additionally, the writer-director is now in the initial stages of penning an English-language film, but the plot is kept under wraps.

The Thessaloniki Film Festival ran Nov. 2 – 12.

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