Thrown into uncertainty by the tragic death of star Gaspard Ulliel, production on Betrand Bonello’s “The Beast” will still go forward, the director confirmed to Variety. Bonello and Ulliel recently collaborated on the hybrid, essay film “Coma,” which premiered in Berlin’s Encounters sidebar.
A sci-fi melodrama set in 1910, 2014 and 2044 and dealing with questions of reincarnation and technology, “The Beast” was set to reunite Léa Seydoux and Gaspar Ulliel, who both starred in Bonello’s 2014 biopic “Saint Laurent.” Bonello wrote the sweeping project with both actors in mind and planned to start shooting in April.
While Ulliel’s sudden passing has upended that specific timeline, the filmmaker still intends to begin production later this year, telling Variety that he will likely recast the role with a non-French star. “The film will get made,” said Bonello. “We’re currently reorganizing everything, but the delays should only be a matter of weeks.”
Bonello wrote “Coma” during France’s January 2021 lockdown, shooting in own house with a small crew and limited means.
Mixing digital video, animation and archival footage to explore the dreams and nightmares of a teenage girl, “Coma” opens with a letter Bonello wrote years prior, addressed to his own daughter, and includes vocal performances from Louis Garrel and Laëtitia Casta alongside Ulliel.
In one of his final roles, Ulliel voices a child’s doll, which — in a turn reflective of the project’s nightmarish approach to mixed media — ends up reciting some of Donald Trump’s more famously unhinged tweets.
Dialogue aside, simply hearing the late actor’s voice while putting the finishing touches on the film gave the director a chill.
“I was alone in a screening room, and Gaspar had just died, and when I heard his voice resonating in the room it was like a haunting,” said Bonello.
“I thought about some lines from the letter to my daughter where I talk about those we’ve lost. The film is called ‘Coma’ and has scenes in a forest that connects the living and the dead. So watching it again felt uncanny. Gaspar resonated throughout.”