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French director Denis Dercourt says creating thriller film, composing music were similar experiences

Denis Dercourt speaks during press conference organized by the 26th Busan International Film Festival at the Busan Cinema Center on Friday. (BIFF)
Denis Dercourt speaks during press conference organized by the 26th Busan International Film Festival at the Busan Cinema Center on Friday. (BIFF)

BUSAN -- For French director Denis Dercourt, who is also a musician, creating his new thriller, “Vanishing,” was similar to the experience of composing music.

“You have to write a story with tension and then release the tension, exactly like composing music,” Dercourt said during a press conference organized by the 26th Busan International Film Festival at the Busan Cinema Center on Friday.

From 1988 to 1993, he was a viola player with the French Symphony Orchestra and later taught chamber music at the Strasbourg Conservatory. He earned international acclaim as a film director with “The Page Turner” (2006) and “Tomorrow at Dawn” (2009), which were both invited to the Cannes Film Festival.

In “Vanishing,” which premiered Thursday at BIFF, Alice (played by Olga Kurylenko), a forensic scientist and a former surgeon, suffers from nightmares about her past. As a forensic scientist, she has a successful career and is widely known for inventing a revolutionary technique that can restore the damaged skin of corpses. She visits South Korea to attend a conference and during her visit she receives a request from the Korean police to apply her technique on an unidentified corpse found in a river. With help from Alice, Jin-ho (played by Yoo Yeon-seok), the detective on the case, learns that the body is connected to an organ trafficking syndicate.

Dercourt explained that he works with actors the way he used to work with musicians.
Denis Dercourt (BIFF)
Denis Dercourt (BIFF)

“I don’t provide any psychological explanation (to actors), only physical explanation. I tell them when their voice is too high or too low,” he said.

He explained that providing physical direction ultimately affects the actors’ understanding of the characters’ emotions.

This way of directing also helped him when working with actors who spoke different languages.

“I can direct actors who speak different languages because I feel it (their performance) as a musician,” he said. Dercourt added that even without understanding Korean, he knew through tone of voice whether the performance met his standards.

The French director said he tried to give the actors as much freedom as possible when filming his new thriller. However, this way of directing was not something the Korean actors and staff were used to, he observed.

“The only difficulty in Korea was that people wait for direction, they say you are the big boss so you have to give every direction. That is not the way it is done in Europe,” he said. “I wanted them to be free, and everything worked out in the end.”

The French director’s new movie is based on Peter May’s novel “The Killing Room.” While the book takes place in China, the filmmaker changed the setting to Korea.

During the conference, the director talked about how the setting changed.

“When the producer proposed this project, it was already set in Korea,” he said. The director soon found out that the producer initially tried shooting the film in China, but it was not possible due to censorship.

“So, the producer developed the first script to take place in Korea, and he wanted to do it with a famous Korean director but no famous Korean director wanted to do it,” he said. “So it came to me.”

Dercourt is close friends with producer Alexis Dantec, he added. “He asked, ‘Can you read the script and tell me why nobody wants to do it? And I answered that the reason is that the script is really, really bad.’”

This is when Dercourt started developing the script by including more about Alice’s emotional background and character depth.

Korean actor Ye Ji-won’s character, Mi-sook, was added during this process.

Ye plays a translator who helps Alice in Korea. Her character also holds secrets as her husband is involved in organ trafficking.

The director added that Mi-sook’s presence allowed more French to be heard in the film.

“There’s French money in the movie. So there has to be more French words in the film. So I invented the character Mi-sook, played by Ji-won,” he added.

By Song Seung-hyun (