IFFR - DEAD & BEAUTIFUL world premiere
4 February 2021
BLOOD BROTHERS AND SISTERS
David Verbeek's sleek new Asian-set psychological drama Dead & Beautiful has taken a small eternity to complete. The film, which world premieres in IFFR Limelight, was originally developed as a Shanghai-set project way back in 2013. The Dutch writer-director has finally completed the film but has set it in Taiwan, where he is currently living.
The film's protagonists are five young, good looking billionaires, narcissistic and a little bored with a world in which they can afford everything. They stage elaborate stunts (for example, feigning death) in order to excite each other. However, after an encounter with a shaman in the jungle, they grow fangs and develop vampiric tendencies, which leads to fundamental tensions between them.
"These people that have been born into this excess wealth are living in a very isolated world where their contact is mostly with other people who are just like them," Verbeek says of the friends living in their own bubble. "They cling to each other in the same way celebrities often marry each other. It's the same mechanism."
The director doesn't pass judgement on his characters but shows how empty their lives risk becoming. They always want more. That doesn't just apply to material wealth but to the new sensations they crave. "It's kind of an addiction...this boundary [of potential new experiences] become stretched and stretched and stretched. Reality becomes so bendable if you have unlimited wealth."
The film, the director continues, is "a portrait of a generation who are desperate to love but don't know how to love."
One of the challenges for Verbeek and his collaborators was showing this world of extreme affluence in which the friends live, but on the limited budget of an independently financed film.
"First, we were going to shoot in China. I was living in Shanghai for many years, also in part for this film. There, you have so many of these new clubs. Everything is new and bling, bling," the director observes of the wealth and conspicuous consumption in modern China. The film was close to shooting but censorship changes and absurd demands from one of the financiers temporarily halted the project.
"We moved the production to Taiwan, aka free China," Verbeek explains of the change in location. "There (in Taiwan), you have less of that extreme, exploding wealth. This is an economy that actually developed ten years earlier and is allready a more balanced society. I've shot previous films in Taiwan such as R U There and An Impossibly Small Object and when different Taiwanese partners and funds decided to join the project we finally had the chance to shoot this film."
"The film," the director continues, "could just as easily have been set in Moscow, St Petersburg, Dubai or Beijing - or any big, modern city with corporations, tycoons and their kids."
Dead & Beautiful is far more playful than the typical vampire film - and some will argue that it isn't a vampire movie at all, or is only an ersatz one. It can also be taken as a satire about young wealth and narcissism. "I hope to drive home this theme of these people being lost in their gaming, and really wanting to be loved. There is a lot of really raw, real feeling, especially in the end of the film."
"The vampire film stands for the ultimate romance, the never dying immortal beloved," Verbeek points out, but adds that the genre now is "international, Asian and all about money."
Dead & Beautiful continues Verbeek's long relationship with Amsterdam-based production Lemming Film, and is co-produced by House on Fire International (Taiwan). The film is supported by the Netherlands Film Fund and the Netherlands Film Production Incentive. Dead & Beautiful, which is partially in English, is handled in the international marketplace by French sales agent Indie Sales and was pre-sold last year to streaming service Shudder who are expected to make it available to audiences in the US, Canada, UK and Ireland, Australia and New Zealand this summer.
In the meantime, the director is already preparing a new feature, The Wolf, The Fox And The Leopard, which will be made in Europe. Again produced by Lemming, it's about a feral child - a girl discovered in the forest living with wolves.
"It's a very ambitious project, my most ambitious project so far," Verbeek says of the film. "It's a film that attempts to study the human condition by looking at what people are when you take away all the cultural influences."
Dead & Beautiful P&I screening: Thu 4 Feb 09:00 CET until Sun 7 Feb 09:00 CET
For more information:
Ph: +31 20 661 0424
Sales: Indie Sales
Ph: +33 1 4483 0227