Shanghai: How Belgian drama 'The Chapel' connected with a young Chinese audience

Shanghai: How Belgian drama ‘The Chapel’ connected with a young Chinese audience

Oscar-nominated Belgian director Dominique Deruddere believes a shared and universal fear of failure helped his new film The chapel resonate with the audience at 25th Shanghai International Film Festival, where it is in the running for the main Golden Goblet award.

“I hear young people all over the world today relate to that feeling of having to perform, having to be the best at everything they do, and the fears that come with it,” Deruddere says. “I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it’s about liberation from all of that and how to just be yourself.”

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Deruddere first gained international attention in 2000 when she earned an Academy Award nomination for Everyone is famous!a film that tore apart the contemporary music scene and its (apparently) manipulated star system.

With The chapel, Deruddere is back in the music business but a very different environment is being explored. The film tells the story of a music contest where the participants are locked together in a house, to practice and then finally to perform.

It is based on a real event staged for classical musicians in Belgium – the Queen Elisabeth Competition – which hosts participants in a house (known as The Chapel) where they train. From that base, Deruddere says she explored the psychological and physical stresses that could result if the situation were pushed to its extreme extremes.

“They isolate these people from the outside world, no cell phones allowed and no computers around. Nothing,” explains Deruddere. “Then they have seven days to study before performing so, to me, it sounds like an ideal place to set a psychological dramatic thriller. It’s just a suspenseful situation, and then you can surround it with music.

Deruddere admits he “opened the champagne” when he heard about it The chapel would be in the running for the Golden Goblet award – and it seems the party has gone on ever since.

Fresh off the screening of his new film, Deruddere says he’s still abuzz over the reaction to the sold-out crowd in Shanghai that seems to have taken him by surprise.

“We were so excited about the movie, and this was a situation where we weren’t really sure what to expect, to be honest,” Deruddere says. “I have a feeling the young people here are really connected to that side of the story — you know, being a happy person, not someone who’s always thinking about your career.”

Lead actress Taeke Nicolai and producer Bart Van Langendonck joined the director on stage for a question and answer session following the screening of The chapelwhere Nicolai was questioned about the actual training she had to commit to in order to play an up-and-coming piano virtuoso convincingly.

“He studied for three months to get to the language of movement on piano right,” Deruddere explains. “There’s such a depth to her performance and the audience really took to it.”

While the main character faces the pressure of his looming performances, Deruddere’s script adds some previous traumas that are triggered by the experience to build his tension. But real-life graduates of the Queen Elisabeth Competition were quick to point out that the film is pure fiction, including acclaimed Czech pianist Lukáš Vondráček, winner of the 2016 edition of the competition.

“I loved my time at the Chapel,” Deruddere told the competition website, for an article on the film. “Especially the evenings with a glass of whiskey we snuck into and the camaraderie between the finalists. Artists need time away from ‘civilization’ to be alone with their thoughts and draw inspiration from silence and nature. This is one of the reasons why I loved the Chapel and its peaceful environment”.

After a home run in Belgium in February, The chapel it has so far been sold by Germany’s Picture Tree International to South Korea (Happy Song), Spain (Vercine) and Bulgaria (Beta Film).