FOR any budding filmmaker wondering what it must be like to have a meeting with Harvey Weinstein, the producer cum force of nature who pushed The Artist from a little-known French curiosity to a five Oscar-winning global triumph, Dominik Moll has the skinny.

The get-together took place just after the French writer-director had an international hit with his 2000 black comedy-thriller Harry, He's Here to Help.

Weinstein opened the meeting. "He said, 'So, Dominik, great film, when are we going to do a film together?' I said, 'I dunno, I don't think I could work in the American production system.' He said, 'That's not a problem, we'll change the system for you!'" And that, essentially, was it. The duration of the meeting? One-and-a-half minutes.

Moll laughs as he recalls the collision of French sang froid and Hollywood audacity. He never did work with Weinstein, instead moving on to the thriller Lemming, and his new film, The Monk, a period drama based on the 18th-century novel by Matthew Lewis.

Speaking after the movie's UK premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival, Moll says he had always been reluctant to do period pieces because they seemed complicated and restrictive, but he was drawn to Lewis's book because of its Gothic atmosphere and surreal elements. There was, in short, a lot to play with, and Moll does, delivering a film that's almost operatic in the way it tells the tale of a monk who rules his flock with what seems like a will of iron.

Playing the monk is Vincent Cassel, star of Black Swan and Mesrine. Was he the only one Moll could see in the part? "No, I wouldn't say that. I have a hard time believing when directors say, 'He was the only one I saw and it couldn't have been anyone else.'" Moll writes his screenplays first then thinks about casting. When Cassel's name came up he didn't think, yes, it's obvious, it must be him. The fact that he had to think about it intrigued him even more.

"He's charismatic, which is important for the role, but the fact I had mainly seen him in very energetic and physical films where he kills a lot of people, quite nervous, I imagined it would be interesting to take all this energy and restrain it. The character of Ambrosio is to do with restraint and putting the lid of religion on his compulsions and emotions."

He met Cassel – for longer than one-and-a-half minutes – and they clicked. "It's always a matter of meeting people, seeing if you get along, speak the same language. What I felt from the beginning was that he was interested in the part, that he trusted my approach and really wanted to go along with that. It's always difficult if you feel the actor wants to pull it in another direction."

With the rest of the cast, Moll also had the chance to make one of his cinephile dreams come true in casting Geraldine Chaplin as the mother superior. "She's incredible."

That Harry was such a hit came as a surprise. "I always hope films will be successful but I didn't think it would be such a success." After Harry there was a five-year gap before Lemming, another Hitchcockian thriller, was released. Between Lemming and The Monk it has been six years.

"After Harry I had the excuse that I was travelling a lot for the film and going to festivals. Unfortunately it takes me a lot of time to find a subject I believe in strongly enough. Sometimes it also happens that I work on a screenplay for a year or more and suddenly I realise I'm not satisfied with it and don't believe in it any more, so I throw it in the garbage and have to start again."

Admitting to being "a bit of a perfectionist" he would like to make the time between films much shorter. "Three years would be good." Writing as well as directing makes a film a year impossible, he says. It is not a matter of principle to write his own screenplays; in France, he says, there are very few screenwriters to call on, so directors tend to do both jobs.

Though born in Germany, Moll is very much a French filmmaker. He went to film school in France and has now worked there for 25 years. He still thinks France is one of the best places to be a director. It's not just that there are state funds available for filmmakers, distributor and cinema owners through a system that takes a percentage of every ticket sold and puts it into a central pot. French audiences are still curious, he says, not just about films from their own country but pictures from all over the world. And in France the director has enough status to ensure he always has the final cut. It's not all perfect, though.

"There are many films being produced, maybe even too many. When you have 15 films released a week, sometimes there are just not enough screens to show them on. A lot of those films are just shown one week then they disappear."

Little wonder, then, that Moll will be staying in France. Plenty of offers to move to the US came in after Harry, but it wasn't for him. "It's always like that when there's a European director that's a bit fashionable. Suddenly you have hundreds of agents and producers, God knows what, who phone you and say you're the greatest and they want to work with you.

"At first you are flattered and you say, 'Wow, Hollywood,' so I said, 'Yes, if you have projects, why not send them.' All I read was so completely uninteresting – you just felt it was pulled out of some drawer and sent to you without even trying to think what would appeal to you according to what you've done. After a while I just said to everyone, 'No, stop.'"

Moll clearly isn't afraid to take chances. Witness his filming of The Monk in the Navarre region of Spain. As detailed in the documentary Lost In La Mancha, this was the territory that famously scuppered Terry Gilliam's bid to make his long-desired The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Knowing that Gilliam had been defeated by mudslides and a Nato target practice area nearby, Moll still went to the region to shoot the ending for The Monk. He didn't get the thunderstorms, but the target practice was real: "There are planes shooting on fake targets right next to you." Given the Monk's subject matter, the crew did joke about the wrath of God.

He has started work on a new screenplay, this time with a British co-writer, so hopefully it won't be another six years before he's back at the Glasgow Film Festival. Having survived a meeting with Harvey Weinstein, Nato missiles, and the process of adapting a deliriously strange Gothic novel, he has no excuses not to come back soon.

The Monk, Glasgow Film Theatre and Filmhouse, Edinburgh, from April 27.