Davy Chou is a Cambodian-French filmmaker, we welcomed him in 2015 for his movie Golden Slumbers and we are happily welcoming him again for his first feature-length film Diamond Islan,which won the screenwriter’s award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.
You have said in several interviews that Diamond Island constitutes the epitome of “the myth of modernity” in Cambodia. What did you want to express through this “myth”?
It’s the question of the illusive dimension of this modernization. I noticed that everybody in Cambodia, for the last years, is talking about the fast development of the country, and how Cambodia is entering in a new modern area. Everybody: the government, the companies, people. And one of the consequences is, in my eyes, the way the youth is embracing this development, without any distance and without doubt they will be part of it. This is the starting point of the film: how the promotion for a modern Cambodia becomes a real dream to many young people, whether they are building this future with their hands (the workers I film in Diamond Island) or whether they are part of the emerging middle class (the group of Bora’s older brother, Solei).
Your movie depicts romantic relationships in Cambodia, especially for teenagers. You were born and raised in France but you are also Cambodian. From your perspective, what are the similarities and differences between teenage love in France and Cambodia?
Difficult to make generalities! But something remarkable when we hang out with teenagers, or actually not teenagers, but 18 year-old Cambodian boys and girls, is the kind of naivety, romantism and shyness that, let’s say in France, we would imagine for younger kids. That’s what I found interesting to portray in the film: the band of boys is talking, quite harshly, about the girls, but when it comes to really have contact with them, they become suddenly super shy and it becomes a huge challenge to caress the belly of a girl!
The movie’s aesthetic has been described as “pop” or “impressionistic” by film critics. Do you understand these analogies? Was it the desired effect?
Well I guess the pop aspect of the film comes first from his visual, and the ultra saturated non-realistic look we created for the film. My idea was to explore the potentiality of digital cinema, and to illustrate how Diamond Island is, somehow, this empire of artificiality, that allowed us to build theorically some bridges with the aesthetic of the video game, the 3D animation videos or the music videos. Also, I wanted to experiment in the film some frictions with different regimes of images, that sometime I haven’t created myself, for example the promotional video, the anonymous Youtube videos of Diamond Island, and the Youtube hologram video… And to use drones, small FX, etc. So the collage of all those forms could be considered as “pop”, perhaps.
Also, the “impressionist” feeling that you mentioned makes me think of our work on artificiality. Both on the image and the sound, we worked on the artificiality of a representation that didn’t try to be realistic. We used many post-synchronizations for example that sound not perfectly synchronized, or even real, in purpose. The idea behind was again to dig the fakeness of this world, but also, to try to reach some kind of truth, or emotional truth, through this process. And that’s also a nice definition of impressionism: reaching some the truth through non realism.
Have you been inspired by Asian movies for this film? Likewise, have you been inspired by French movies or directors? Could you tell us which ones?
For this film, yes, there are some obvious influences from Asian directors, mainly belonging to what we could call Asian modern cinema: Hou Hsiao Hsien, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Jia Zhangke were very present in both the writing and the shooting of the movie. Some people talked to me about Wong Kar Wai. I don’t think I’ve thought of his films directly, but I used to be obsessed with 2046 when it was out, so sometimes, the connections remain unconscious for you.
Strangely I’m not sure there were French movies that were from direct influence on Diamond Island! I love French cinema and I still watch a lot of French films, but here the films that helped me to build this one were mainly Asian and American (from the Coppola’s 80s films as Rumble Fish and Outsiders, to more modern films as Miami Vice, Spring Breakers or James Gray’s films) . But actually sometime you’re not infuenced by a whole film, but just steal one shot or one idea from another film. I think for example of the use of close ups in shot reverse shot romantic scenes in Blue is the warmest color by Abdelattif Kechiche or Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse (My golden days) by Arnaud Despleschin…
You won the SACD (i.e. Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers) prize at the last Cannes Film Festival. Was it your first time at Cannes? How was the experience for you, as a young movie director?
I used to come at Cannes as an audience, and lived some wonderful moments of cinema there. But I’m not sure I was, at that time, imagining myself presenting a film one day. So it was a very intense feeling, and especially, not really winning a prize, to be honest, but sharing that moment with my team and three of my actors who came from Cambodia. This was very special. After, having your film in Cannes brings a lot of attention to your film worldwide, this is automatic. It doesn’t mean the film will travel everywhere, but at least all festivals around will watch and consider it, because Cannes remains this reference for all.