Dominik Moll: Only the Animals, Scammers and their Lovers

January 20, 2021
Dominik Moll’s Only the Animals is a French treat. We spoke to the writer-director (Harry, He's Here to Help, Lemming) at the 2019 Venice Festival and while the film has taken its time coming to Australian cinemas, it’s been well worth the wait.

The nonlinear thriller, based on Colin Neil’s novel, follows five characters from central France and The Ivory Coast. After a woman disappears in the French snow, Moll and his co-writer Gilles Marchand offer only the odd clue regarding what is going on and how the characters are inter-connected.

Moll amassed a stellar French cast: Denis Menochet (Custody, Inglourious Basterds), Laure Calamy (Call My Agent!) Damien Bonnard (Ladj Ly’s Les Miserables), Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and stunning non-actor Guy Roger N’Drin.

I spoke to you for Harry, He’s Here to Help (2000) and Lemming (2005) with the two Charlottes (Rampling and Gainsbourg) and you made quite an impression with both films. There seems to have been a bit of a lull until Only the Animals.

“Certainly, there is in terms of success. I didn’t stop making films, but I had less success. I directed The Monk (starring Vincent Cassel), which was a strange film, because it was an adaptation of an 18th century British Gothic novel. I think people didn’t know what to do with it. Then I did the first two episodes of the French-UK series The Tunnel (starring Stephen Dillane), which was an interesting experience. I also made a French film called News from Planet Mars (2016), which was a comedy and I liked it a lot, but it bombed in a way. In 2017 I made Eden, a fictional mini-series on the refugee crisis. Tackling a contemporary topic, a very serious social reality, was something I’d never done.”

So now with Only the Animals you’ve come back to genre filmmaking?

“I didn’t feel like I was doing something completely different. I feel that all my films have a certain continuity. Even with Eden, without doing it consciously, there are layers that come off as naturalism and I bring in strange and Hitchcockian elements.”

So, what did you bring to Only the Animals from those experiences? It’s very good, and also has a socio-political element like Eden.

“Thank you. I think it was mainly because I read the book and it appealed to me. I felt there was something strong in terms of the characters, in terms of the structure, in terms of the confrontation between two different worlds, and I also felt that it had this genre thing because it’s a mystery thriller. In reality, it talks about people trying to be loved or to love other people in very clumsy or strange ways that lead to murder.”

In some ways the film is about social media romance and how it can go wrong. How did you explore the world of internet scammers?

“I did quite a bit of research on both sides. In France, I watched news reports or documentaries on people who had been scammed and that was fascinating. I remember one woman who wasn’t rich had lost 35,000 Euros, which was a lot for her, and she thought she had a relationship with a beautiful Italian man. And of course, she didn’t. When the cyber police came to her and said, ‘Look, we’re sorry, but you’ve been cheated and this man doesn’t exist’ and they had proof, she still kept his photo next to her bed, because she couldn’t accept the idea that he didn’t exist. She needed it. And so, I thought this is about the power of the imagination. I think a lot of people, when they’re behind the keypad and their screen, they feel much freer.”

And on the scammers’ side?

“I saw a documentary by a young director from Ivory Coast which is very good, so we contacted him and he introduced us into this milieu. We did our casting with real scammers. They’re not actors. Ultimately, the scammers have different approaches. There are some who try to use blackmail. So, when they see the clients jerking off, they’ll say they’d recorded it and if you don’t send them 20,000 Euros, they’ll send it all to your work or your friends, your wife and family. Most of them though, they steal money, but they are more sentimental. In the documentary, there was a scammer – I don’t know if the woman found out that he was not for real or he admitted it — but he somehow then decided to go to France to meet her. And apparently, they now have a real relationship. The scammer became a lover.”

You were born in Germany.

“I am half German and half French, but I consider myself a French filmmaker because I’ve made all my films in France, though I did a little bit of shooting for Eden in Germany. I think that anybody who has the experience of another culture brings a point of view that is slightly different. And that is always interesting. Like Valeria is a very French actress and she is Italian.”

Denis is French but he lives in the UK.

“He was really the first casting of the whole film, because when I was writing it, I had seen Custody. I found him so impressive. He was fabulous to work with.”

Only the Animals is in cinemas January 21, 2021


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