Belgian takes us upriver in Finn de siecle look at boyhood
IT CAN be a mistake, says Belgian filmmaker Bouli Lanners, to return to a movie you loved or reread a book that meant a lot to you when you were young. Sometimes, it just doesn't carry the same weight any more.
But he decided to take the risk, just before he began shooting his latest film, The Giants: he went back to one of his favourite books, Huckleberry Finn because its influence on the script was hard to ignore.
It didn't disappoint him. In fact, it seemed not only stronger than he remembered, but it also seemed to have links with his movie in ways he hadn't expected.
The young stars of The Giants.
Lanners, 47, is a busy actor who has also begun to write and direct. The Giants, his third feature, won two awards at Directors' Fortnight in Cannes last year. It is the story of three boys thrown together by chance. Two are brothers, Seth (Martin Nissen) and Zak (Zacharie Chasseriaud), left to fend for themselves in the countryside, in summer, staying at a house that belonged to their late grandfather.
The third, Dany (Paul Bartel) is a local boy who befriends them.
Seth and Zak's mother has left some money to tide them over. She is working, but is supposed to arrive soon. Gradually, they become accustomed to her absence, although Zak, the younger, still yearns for her at times. The boys are vulnerable, and there's nothing positive about the way they are treated by the adults in their world. They are exploited, in a grim, cascading series of misfortunes. But there's a lightness and openness to the movie that contradicts the apparent bleakness of its premise.
Belgian filmmaker Bouli Lanners who wrote and directed the film.
Setting the film in the countryside gave Lanners a certain freedom, he says, as well as the beauty of a natural world that seemed to offer the young characters a degree of protection. If he had told the story of these abandoned children in a city, he would have to have explained who this family was, why the police did not become involved, why other people overlooked their plight. He didn't want to make a film that felt as if it had a social agenda, he says. ''It would have been too heavy and too sad in the city.''
There is a moment of respite, when deliverance appears in sight - but the three boys, Lanners says, are mature enough to realise that they cannot stay in this fairytale scenario, ''like Goldilocks with the three bears''.
Finding three young leads wasn't easy. ''The casting process is the hardest thing in a film for me.'' He talks about it as the moment when a script, still in some ways an abstraction, begins to becomes concrete.
He needed to cast the brothers first. His two young actors have different accents - one is French, one Belgian - but in the end, he says, he decided not to worry too much about that, because the rapport between them was so clear.
For the role of Dany, the actor he initially chose had a sudden growth spurt between casting and shooting and had to be ruled out.
Paul, the actor he found at the last minute, was a perfect fit, and the three of them were an immediate, close-knit trio.
The parts were carefully written, and the boys understood their characters well. ''We talked about the roles in the same way that adult actors would.'' There were times when he could take advantage of an improvised moment, but for the most part, they adhered closely to the script.
We talk about a scene in which all three boys dye their hair, in a moment of playfulness and resistance that is also an assertion of shared identity, and of another scene in which they suddenly seem almost absurdly young.
Throughout, the characters are caught between adolescence and childhood. Lanners says this was mirrored in the shoot. He has a fond recollection of the time when 15-year-old Martin, who had claimed that he wanted a beer after a long day on set, then raced off to hang out with the other two boys and watch a Pixar movie instead.
The Giants is screening at ACMI.
Philippa Hawker went to Paris as a guest of Unifrance.