Locarno: Christophe Van Rompaey on ‘Vincent,’ Suicide, Ecology and Hope

‘Moscow, Belgian’ director highlights the themes from his Locarno dramedy

Vincent and the End of the World
Courtesy of Beta Cinema

“Vincent and the End of the World” is a dramatic comedy from director Christophe Van Rompaey (“Moscow, Belgium”) which world premieres Aug. 11 in the Piazza Grande at Switzerland’s Locarno Festival.

Movie follows Vincent, a 17-year-old ecologist who drives his family crazy through his sermons on the importance of downscaling their carbon footprint — and makes a point about it via numerous suicide attempts. His extravagant French aunt Nikki takes him on a trip to France, convinced Vincent just needs to get away from his suffocating mother. But she finds his problems are more than meets the eye and more than she can handle. Variety chatted to Flemish helmer Van Rompaey a few days before “Vincent’s” Locarno bow:

What was it for you that felt right about Spencer Bogaert playing the role of 17-year-old Vincent?

The character of Vincent needed to feel as real as possible, so I wanted to find someone who was not a day older than seventeen. I often have trouble believing actors who play “the younger version” of themselves. You can just sense they haven’t got that adolescent spontaneous feel anymore. Spencer Bogaert instinctively understood the character and got the audition right from the very first take. I could see and feel his youth, his anger, his brooding, his rebelliousness and his humor. And he also had a personal feel with the story, so I knew I had my lead.”

The story in part deals with Vincent’s obsession with his family reducing their carbon footprint. Why did you want to hang the story on that social issue?

It’s an issue that I myself have been actively aware of since my own teens. Vincent is, like many adolescents today – and of course other people for that matter – very concerned, even obsessed with ecological issues. He has grown up within the age of a global warming panic and is afraid that the world is heading for some sort of ecological doomsday. The fact that he seems unable to change any of these issues created the opportunity to illustrate how he was stuck in his angry adolescent phase, to show his inability to overcome his fears and grow up.

Vincent stages suicide attempts to convince his family to see his viewpoint. That’s a powerful way of getting that point across is it not? Why suicide?

Also an issue we can’t neglect in today’s world. In a certain age category, it’s even the number one cause of death! Living in a country where these numbers are pretty high and the fact that there is also a personal side to it for me, make it relevant. Story wise, suicide seemed like the ultimate immature thing for Vincent to do. It’s his way of refusing or avoiding to grow up. And he’s very serious about it. Vincent’s whole crazy voyage with his aunt Nicole – who herself is stuck in her own adolescence – is a healing one.

How did the decision to make this film a dramatic comedy as opposed to strictly a drama or comedy affect the message?

Drama for me doesn’t necessarily need to be told in a dramatic way. Contrast is a very interesting tool when telling stories. It’s like life itself, with its ups and downs, its tears and laughter. For example: I could only imagine Vincent hooking up with and being inspired by an opposite character.  His flamboyant, exuberant, extrovert French aunt helps him make his journey towards adulthood. He would not have gone to France with a silent uncle who suffers from terminal cancer so to speak.

What were some of the important parts of the script for you to nail? Were there moments you weren’t willing to sacrifice?

When I’m working, I go in some sort of “tunnel vision mode” and then ‘sacrifice’ isn’t really part of the vocabulary. So of course every scene is important, but it’s obvious some key scenes like act turning points, midpoint etc.. get some special attention.

As the audience is watching Vincent at Locarno, what is it that you want to resonate?

Many issues are covered in this film, so there is a lot to reflect on. If I have to pick one: There’s always more ways to look at things and seeing or approaching things differently then what comes naturally can be a struggle – which I am not unfamiliar with myself. So I guess, even when things seem dark, it is important to take a step back and reassess. There is always hope.