Real monsters in plain sight

Director Robert Morin and actor Christian Bégin on their new film Le problème d’infiltration.

Christian Bégin in Le problème d’infiltration.

Iconoclastic director Robert Morin’s new film Le problème d’infiltration isn’t like anything he’s done before — but then again, no two Morin movies are alike.

Le problème d’infiltration stars Christian Bégin as a rich plastic surgeon who’s threatened by a patient (Guy Thauvette) who feels that his doctor hasn’t done enough to cure him of the horrible disfiguration he suffers from. It’s after (or maybe in spite of) this traumatic event that his seemingly perfect life starts crumbling.

“Robert often calls it a monster movie, and I have to agree with him,” says Bégin. “It’s a psychological horror movie — it’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In 24 hours, this guy completely flips. There are people in real life who flip in a day. Guy Turcotte didn’t premeditate what he did to his kids – it happened in a single day. It’s fragile, and it’s worrisome to know that it can all flip in an instant.”

“In the largest sense, it’s a monster movie, but in terms of genre, it’s much more of a psychological thriller,” says Morin. “It’s an expressionistic monster — a romantic monster. It’s a monster that suffers from its state and therefore causes others to suffer through his state. The best example of that might be Nosferatu, who is dominant but also dominated by his vampiric state. In that sense, Christian’s character is – or at least I hope that the film conveys this – one that we see suffer from a loss of control. He’s a narcissist.

“My journey for this movie has been pretty simple,” continues Morin. “I took inspiration from the filmmakers that, in a way, made me want to make cinema: German filmmakers of the 1920s and 1970s, but especially of the 20s. I asked myself not only what they would do with the kind of technology we have today, but also what kind of monster they would showcase. These were filmmakers who played with the idea of monstrosity — the monster that both suffers and makes other suffers. They worked during the rise of the Nazis, and the world was filled with tyrants – their monsters are therefore very tyrannous. So I asked myself what kind of monster Fritz Lang would make a film about today. He almost certainly wouldn’t make one about a pedophile. He’d probably make one about a compulsive narcissist. It’s the most common form of monster, really. It’s always existed, but these days it’s comforted by social media. Social media confirms and comforts narcissists by giving them all “me me me me me” all the time. We’re all narcissists – if you’re not a narcissist, you’re dead. But when it becomes pathological, it’s a whole other thing.”

“The malignant narcissist personality builds over time,” says Bégin. “In fact they say you’re born with the personality traits. But his wife, for example, she’s stuck with this guy. She knows what she’s dealing with, but on that day, it’s next level. It’s nearing the point of no return. I think his son has been afraid of him for some time; I think his wife has been afraid of him for some time. He’s someone who controls his universe perfectly, and gives a false impression of empathy and of calm within that illusion. He’s creating a perfect world, but a completely intoxicated one.”

Bégin’s casting may come as a surprise to some. Though a seasoned theatre actor, these days he’s better known for his epicurean lifestyle TV show Curieux Bégin and as the spokesperson and face of the IGA supermarket chain.

“Robert had actually not thought of me at all for the role. He had someone else in mind, but someone on the team suggested me. I did know his films; I was really struck by his film Quiconque meurt, meurt à douleur, which is almost certainly one of the most significant film experiences of my life. It’s so harsh and so deeply in contact with human misery — and the form of it, blending fiction and documentary — it’s a movie that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake. I was a fan of the filmmaker and I was doubly surprised that he called me since he has a sort of cinematic family already. There are actors with whom he works repeatedly, and I’m not part of that family!”

“I wanted to work with a friend of mine, but he had a kid and he had to back out,” says Morin. “I was fucked — I don’t really know many actors, that’s not really my world. Someone suggested Christian Bégin and I thought ‘Yes!’ But I was a little worried because Christian’s public image is really more of a jovial bon vivant. I was certain he’d tell me it was kind of going to clash with the type of projects he takes on these days, but thankfully, he accepted right away. I was so happy — he’s a fucking great actor.”

“I’d never done a lead role in a movie before,” continues Bégin. “All I did were one night stands, so to speak. To be on set from day 1 to day 17, I’d never done that. Beyond the importance of the role, what really pleased me was not so much the nature of the role, it was to be there every day and live the process from start to finish. I’m very interested in the creative process. In the theatre, I’ve only ever created plays — I’ve never done repertory — and I loved that. The fact that the role was so large and so different from what I’ve done before. I’ve played bad boys, but not monsters like this one.”

Bégin spends long stretches of the film alone, crumbling. Even in his interactions with others, he’s very much a prisoner of his own mind. The film unfolds in what essentially boils down to seven or nine long tracking shots.

“It’s a lot of fun making a movie that doesn’t rely on words,” he explains. “Coming from a background in the theatre — and having written theatre myself — finding myself in a world where my acting takes on a whole other dimension was really interesting.

“What was also really interesting about this movie is that since it’s essentially a descent into hell, if we began a scene and something went wrong, we had to take it from the very beginning of the scene. That also really contributed to being in the moment and being immersed in it. In the first scene, for example, the lighting changes behind me, live. I’m there acting and lights are being moved around me! All of that contributes to creating this anxious, oppressive feeling that translates to the viewer. (…) I think what really works well about the film is that it gives you no exits. There’s no way out of this universe, a universe that’s basically just the character’s mind coming apart.”

There’s a certain level of satire to the film, especially in its skewering of suburban perfection (a favourite theme of Morin’s). While Morin cops to the film containing some of his usual targets, he doesn’t see the film as a satire.

“I didn’t really try to approach it sociologically,” he says. “The idea was really to make a formal genre exercise, where the form has such a profound influence on the character’s evolution that you actually see it. I didn’t want it to become annoying, but the form is so present that it’s impossible not to notice it. That’s the way it is in most movies, in fact. The ideal film these days is one where you forget there’s a camera, you forget that there’s sound and colour. You’re completely focused on the story, but that wasn’t my goal. German expressionism, if you’re doing it right… you can tell the lighting isn’t natural, but it’s that way for a reason.

“The difficulty in doing that was to make sure I didn’t look like I was showing off,” he continues. “I didn’t want people to think ‘Look at this fucking poser with his fancy shots!’ But at the same time, you have to notice the filmmaking. That was pretty difficult.” ■

Le problème d’infiltration opens in theatres on Friday, Aug. 25.