Vinyan (2008) dir. Fabrice du Welz
Starring: Emmanuel Beart, Rufus Sewell
What would you do if your child had drowned in the Ocean but you received scant evidence that he was kidnapped and alive somewhere in the Burmese jungle? This is the conundrum faced by Fabrice Du Welz’s characters in this frightening Southeast Asian 'Heart of Darkness' tale.
Paul and Jeanne Belman (Rufus Sewell and Emmanuel Beart) have just been through unimaginable pain and suffering. Their young boy died six months ago in a Tsunami-related drowning accident aboard a boat in Thailand. Because of Paul’s philanthropic work they remained in Thailand. During a corporate presentation Jeanne catches site of what appears to be their child in a grainy video. Despite more evidence against the possibility of her son being alive Jeanne is convinced he was kidnapped.
And so begins the arduous journey to find their son. The Belmans spend all their money bribing local prostitution brokers and riverboat guides to bring them into the remote and dangerous jungles of Thailand and Burma. As their money is depleted and the roadblocks pile up Paul’s doubt resurfaces. Jeanne and Paul’s relationship breaks, but not before they’ve passed the point of no return and are forced to face their demons and own personal responsibility with their predicament.
Du Welz’s film would make a good companion piece to Francis Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” or Werner Herzog’s “Aguirre, Wrath of God”. Like these two great films “Vinyan” dramatizes a lengthy psychologically challenging journey into exotic, uncharted lands by boat. All three films explore the effects of the environment and the mystical nature of its native population against the intrusion of the white man into their world.
Labeling “Vinyan” as a ‘horror film’ would be a misidentification. Although there are some scares, the suspense comes from the intensity of the challenges the couple is presented with. Du Welz drops his characters into some of the most harrowing weather and terrain they could be exposed to. There’s one of shot of Rufus Sewell sitting on a rock being pummeled by massive globules of heavy rain. No rain machine could match the authenticity of this real world effect. By the end these physical and emotional beatdowns becomes truly exhausting.
Du Welz employs Benoit Debie who was Gasper Noe’s cinematographer on “Irreversible”. Like Noe’s film Du Welz bombards our eyes and ears with an assaulting visual and sound design. The opening scene is a series of abstract, out of focus water bubbles rising and falling across the frame with an all-encompassing wall of ambient noise blasting through the theatre speakers. The sound mixer cranked the levels to 11 in numerous sequences – so much so I had to plug my ears for relief. It's a warning sign to the audience to prepare for the painful ride.
Du Welz doesn’t give his characters or us relief from their journey. There's a point in the film when we realize whether the Belmans find their child or not ceases to matter. The real dilemma is articulated subtly in the marvelous fire lighting ceremony scene. When Jeanne refuses to participate in the healing ritual she unknowingly seals hers and her husband’s fate.
Rufus Sewell and Emmanuel Beart physically and emotionally pour all their emotions onto the screen in two supremely remarkable performances. “Vinyan” is a difficult and challenging visceral cinematic experience, and most certainly the best film about grieving families I've seen this year at TIFF (and there have been a few). Enjoy.