On the ground at the Thessaloniki Film Festival, we caught up with one of our favourite actors to discuss her new role in gothic delight, The Vourdalak.
Ariane Labed says she “loves cinema”. The appreciation is no lip service or a line fed to the media. Her career reflects that: in the choices she makes, the roles she plays, the films she directs. From her debut short behind the camera, Olla, to the body-popping hotel maid she plays in absurdist black comedy The Lobster, she tends to gravitate towards challenging material as a creative choice. And so it is with Adrien Beau’s The Vourdalak, a brilliantly counter-intuitive vampire story in which her character allows her face and body to do most of the talking. The film also goes against the grain of VFX-heavy contemporary filmmaking – in The Vourdalak, you see, the vampire is actually played by a marionette. Little White Lies spoke to Ariane at the 2023 Thessaloniki Film Festival in early November.
LWLies: How does The Vourdalak differ from traditional vampire films?
Labed: It’s another way of treating the drive for a vampire. In this case, it’s love in the family circle, and I really like that – it’s a vampire that only targets who they love. They are not those rich people in a castle; it’s [average] people who live in a village. It’s almost the opposite of what we have in mind when talking about Dracula.
How do you think the film is relevant today?
It talks about humanity: how when you love someone, especially if it’s in the family, there’s something “toxic” about it, you know, “I love you so you’re gonna be mine and I’m gonna eat you”. I think that’s very relevant. And then there is patriarchy. This father figure coming back from the dead, trying to make his son be the same as he is and trying to keep the [family] legacy somehow. I think that’s very relevant today. Since the “Me Too” movement, when something like that happens, you always have people fighting very hard to keep things how they were.
It’s shot on 16mm, as was your short film, Olla. You must like the format…
Honestly, I said it as half a joke but I was actually very serious… I wouldn’t do The Vourdalak if it was shot on digital. I said that to the producers, I said it to the director… please help me fight for it. It’s a fight if you want to shoot on film – though that’s crazy because if you think about painting, for example, you don’t tell the painter that they should use oil or gouache.
The artist chooses the medium.
Exactly. This is a very low-budget film, but it was a priority and I think everybody in the end agreed on that. Especially when you want to work with a puppet. When you want to work with things that are obviously not trying to tell you that they’re real. […] It’s about aesthetics and about how things are on set when you have a low-budget film. It means that between the action and cuts, it is a very, very precious time because there is something organic running and it’s printing on something very concrete. That changes the whole approach to filming and the whole behaviour on set. It’s a time closer to theatre [and being] on stage.
I saw this incredible quote from the editor of The Vourdalak. He said that, “with special effects, it looks real but it feels fake”. And with what you guys created, “it looks fake, but it feels real”.
That’s beautiful – I agree with that! Digital sees more than your own eye, making everything more than real, which I think is terribly ugly. We can see the actor’s fucked-up skin, the roughness of the tree, everything is aggressive and sharp. While in film you have this layer of “this is a fiction, I’m telling you a story,” but printed on something very real. I really agree with him.
Is it a choice to make non-mainstream films – what’s the drive behind it?
I really love cinema. I deeply do. I love making films. I love the medium. And it has to do with the idea of taking risks, and working with people willing to take risks… It makes my whole career not very logical somehow – but it makes sense to me.
You were born in Greece and raised in France. You also lived in London – so where is home, does it even matter?
After Brexit and especially during lockdown I decided I couldn’t stay in London anymore. And Greece is my favourite place. Athens for sure is my favourite city. […] I guess I created my home in Athens, but the metaphysical idea of home… I don’t have it and I don’t care about it that much.
Why do you like Greece so much?
I think it’s the lifestyle. Culturally I connect more with Mediterranean culture. There’s this chaotic thing in Athens with all these ugly beautiful buildings, and then you look up and there’s The Acropolis. It makes me feel very relaxed. In London there’s something very precious about it… we know the value that the buildings have there. Here it’s like, whatever, and I like that…
The casual, vague dilapidation of stuff can be liberating.
Yes. Exactly! That’s a good way of putting it.
How long were you in London? What did you like about it?
I was there for 10 years. The thing I love about London is that you can really feel like you live in a village even if you’re in Zone 1… If you’re writing and if you’re able to stay home you can have this kind of neighbourhood life which I really appreciate and love. I’m also very lucky that people welcomed me there. I’ve just made my first feature and it’s a BBC film.
Tell us a little bit about it.
It’s a film called Sisters, an adaptation of the book of the same name by Daisy Johnson. It’s a story about two sisters who have a kind of toxic relationship. The novel is a bit gothic as well… it starts as a teenage coming of age kind of film – and then it goes somewhere else.
I’m intrigued, when can we see it?
I don’t know – I’m editing it now.
Are you excited about it?
Right now it’s the worst. I’m in the phase where I hate everything, all my choices are wrong. Right now I don’t want anyone to see anything! But people keep telling me that it’s normal.
Your husband, Yorgos Lanthimos, is a filmmaker, what’s it like to talk about film at home? Oh, and by the way, the LWLies are big fans of his new film [Poor Things]…
It’s a masterpiece. It’s amazing… Before I met him on my first film, I was mainly doing theatre, experimental theatre. I kind of started to get into the cinema world with him. We used to watch like four films a day in the beginning of our relationship… But he’s not the kind of person who actually talks about film, he just shows them and doesn’t say much… But of course it’s great to be able to talk about everything and share our scripts and our doubts.
Last question, Ariane – what do you love about movies?
I love the fact that they extract me from life, teach me something, and then send me back having learned something I didn’t know. They teach me how to live, somehow.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.
Little White Lies is committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them.
Published 8 Dec 2023