Comedic bite

Ariane Louis-Seize on injecting Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person with humour

by Amber Wilkinson

Sasha (Sara Montpetit) in Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person. Ariane Louis-Seize: 'Sara really had something mysterious about her and I could picture her as a vampire from the beginning'
Sasha (Sara Montpetit) in Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person. Ariane Louis-Seize: 'Sara really had something mysterious about her and I could picture her as a vampire from the beginning' Photo: Shawn Pavlin
Being a vampire is rarely an easy job in the movies but the one in French-Canadian coming-of-age film Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person has it harder than most. Teenager Sasha (Sara Montpetit) - at least in vampire years - just can’t bring herself to go in for the kill. In fact she feels so sorry for humans that her fangs haven’t even grown in, so she relies on her family bringing home the blood she needs to survive, sucking it noisily from bags the way regular teens would slurp a Coke. Things look as though they might be set to change after Sasha unexpectedly encounters suicidal teenager Paul (Félix-Antoine Bénard) - could they help one another out? This is the just the beginning of Ariane Louis-Seize’s quirky, sweet-natured comedy, which plays at both Thessaloniki and Leeds Film Festivals this week. We caught up with the director to talk about her fresh twist on vampires.

Tell me how you settled on the idea of using a vampire in a comedy rather than a horror movie.

Ariane Lois-Seize: I’ve wanted to do a vampire film for a long time and actually, my first short film (Skyline) wasn't a vampire film, but I made the main actress watch vampire films to direct her. I wanted to create this character in my first short film who’s mysterious, and I wanted to play with attraction, repulsion and create an uncanny world. So I kind of made a vampire film without making one for my first short film. And now I’ve decided to embrace the vampire tales for real but without making one, once again, because I really like to have fun with tone. I thought that to see my main character like a regular teenager and create a parallel between classical things that teenagers have to go through in the vampire world, that can be pretty fun to do. From the beginning I also wanted to do a comedy. It's my first comedy, but I really like when a film, plays with tragedy and comedy. I think it's the way I see life a little bit. In tragedy, you can see awkward things that are kind of funny, but the contrary also. I like to find those gray areas and play with them. It was during Covid and I wanted to do something fun and have fun in the writing process, so I asked my good friend and super-fun human and writer Christine Doyon to do this with me. And we had a lot of fun in the writing process.

Apart from being very funny, it's also stylish. It’'s a little bit Gothic but also there's a nouvelle vague feel to some of the film. How did you settle on the look of the film?

ALS: I built my visual style with the cinematographer Sean Pavlin who did all my short films with me. So we were really building this kind of this style from our first project together. It's hard to pinpoint exactly how we create it but I really like when we are close to the character. I like to create a kind of melancholic aesthetic and ambience, but also colourful. I like opposites, so the film is dark, but also colourful. So we played a lot with opposites. I think the word “playful” was the key word for the art department and the writing process. But it was a specific tone - to follow this little path between comedy and melancholy and play with attraction and repulsion. Always to be on that thin line was the big challenge. With the visual style I wanted to play with the emptiness but also something really full and to play with eras as well. We were inspired by coming of age films from the beginning of the 2000 but also a lot of old vampire films.

Do you have a favourite vampire film?

Club Zero gathering
Club Zero gathering
ALS:The Hunger with David Bowie. This film was the first film that I saw when I was younger, where vampires were not just bloodthirsty creatures, but had an inner struggle. And from that moment I started to see vampires as creatures who really suffer from loneliness. They are so powerful, but they are so alone in the sense.

Inevitably an element of horror branding that comes with a vampire movie, but you really do steer away from gore. The blood is most often played for laughs, like when she sucks the blood through a straw.

ASLI like to play with off-frame tension and I like it when a filmmaker does that. And sometimes it's more powerful than actually seeing the thing. And it wasn't my intention to go deep into the horror of vampires.

There’s clever interplay between the two main roles, they really spark off one another. How hard was it to cast

ASL: For Sasha, I have already had Sara Montpetit in mind, but I I did an audition with her and I met other great actresses so I was hesitating. But Sara really had something mysterious about her and I could picture her as a vampire from the beginning. And for Paul, it was a harder character to find because I wanted to, like play a little bit that he is on the spectrum. Young actors didn't have a lot of predisposition for something far from their own personality. But Félix-Antoine Bénard, when he arrived with this predisposition, it was so strong and so believable that for me, Paul was right in front of me. And when I mixed both of the actors together, it was like there was no way back. They were so good together. They weren’t sure the audition went well, because it was awkward between them. Because something happened and Felix-Antoine had this thing in mind. And Sara was playing different things. So he didn’t know how to work with her and Sara thought the same thing. But that was I was looking for, this kind of awkwardness. They were both curious aboutoen another but also, they were both little weird, but in different ways. It was really special this audition, and after that, I was sure.

Arguably Félix-Antoine has the harder role because he is playing a naif, but he’s also very deadpan which must have been difficult for Sara because he isn’t really giving her anything except a reflection.

ASL Yes, that’s why I wasn't sure at the beginning of Sara because I just saw her in a drama so I knew that shewill be a good vampire, for sure, but I wanted to test her comedic tone and deadpan comedy and she's so good. I was so happy to find that in her and that she can go there. They are both really smart and found little things to add to their characters. For example, when they listen to the song on vinyl, everything is in the small choreography that we rehearsed together, when they began to turn to each other, and the way that they dance, not on the same bea. They both understand that line of comedy and that rhythm.

How did you pick the song Emotions by Brenda Lee?

ASL: I searched for a good song for a very long time, because I wanted something nostalgic, but also a little bit romantic, but not too romantic. And I wanted the lyrics to resonate with the struggle out of Sasha. And so I took a week to find a good song. And when I found this one, I was like, it has to be this song.

Paul (Félix-Antoine Bénard) and Sasha (Sara Montpetit). Ariane Louis-Seize on her stars: 'They are both really smart and found little things to add to their characters'
Paul (Félix-Antoine Bénard) and Sasha (Sara Montpetit). Ariane Louis-Seize on her stars: 'They are both really smart and found little things to add to their characters' Photo: Shawn Pavlin
And it worked, we managed to have the rights to this song. So it was my first choice but it took lots of time to find it. What I like about it, it's when it's playing in the film, it's like, her emotions are her big enemy because she can kill because she's too sensitive. But I think it kind of evolved during the film because in a sense, she opened herself to, to accept her emotion.

When you were preparing the film, did you rehearse a lot?

ASL: That was the key, yes, especially between Paul and Sasha. So when we were on set, it was easy, in a way, to direct them because they already knew. I also shared with them some of my inspiration. But I had vampire inspiration for the mood, and for the universe, I have some more mumblecore, coming- of-age comedic references. So it's kind of a mix of all of that. I didn't have like one reference that showed all of that together. For Paul, I didn't want him to be a victim. He is bullied at school but for me, he wasn’t a victim so much as he doesn’t get people. It's not that is probably depressed, it's more that he feels nothing and nothing makes him feel something except when he is closer to death. We talked a lot about the character's intentions. And I was really precise in a scene where it's not funny any more, where the switch of energy between tones happens.

So what’s next for you are you planning on more comedy?

ASL:I really like the mix of tones so my next film is more of a drama, but the characters are really colourful and the rhythm of the dialogue is sometimes really funny. It's the same mix but in the opposite combination.

Humanist Vampire Seeks Consenting Human Person plays Leeds Film Festival on November 11, 12 and 17 and Thessaloniki Film Festival on November 10.

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