Nostalgia as a narrative driving force"
by Domenico La Porta
16/05/2011 - Cineuropa met with Belgian actor-director Bouli Lanners at Cannes a few hours before the screening of his film The Giants [trailer, film focus], which closed the Directors’ Fortnight (picking up two prizes). Here he talks about the themes that are dear to him and which naturally find their way into this tale set in Belgium and Luxembourg.
Cineuropa: What was your aim when you wrote The Giants?
Bouli Lanners: I wanted to work with teenagers and tell a coming-of-age story about these youngsters who have to take responsibility for themselves because they have no choice: their mother has abandoned them. However, I didn’t want a depressing film where the social theme was foregrounded. People have told me that the film is somewhere between Mark Twain, Deliverance and Stand By Me. I’m very flattered by these references, but I didn’t really think about them, either when writing, or during shooting.
Is it true that you’re not a film enthusiast?
I don’t watch many films and I’ve never sought to make films at all costs. I ended up working in this medium by chance and, for the moment, it happens to be a way that enables me to tell my stories. I’ll perhaps do something else later on. I don’t have a career plan. As for my influences, literature is the main inspiration for my content and painting influences my notion of the image.
The family, or rather family breakdown, is a recurring theme in your films.
After four short films and three features, I realise that it is indeed a theme that keeps coming back, but it’s unconscious. In my next film which I’m in the process of writing, once again there is this lack of family structure which means that the characters are somewhat disorientated. The theme of family rootlessness returns naturally and it must be an obsession of mine. Despite everything, my characters always try to rebuild their lives. I think we currently live in a society where the family is somewhat broken and, in my view, the family structure is the foundation of a healthy society. I had the benefit of this healthy structure when I was a child. I was very supported and very happy in my family. Today, I no longer have this structure because people die, others move away geographically and perhaps I feel great nostalgia for those years when we were all together. This nostalgia for a time when I felt totally secure in my family is without doubt the recurrent dramatic driving force of my stories.
There is also a continuity in the locations. Ultranova [trailer, film focus] was an urban film, but The Giants continues the shift towards natural surroundings that began with Eldorado [trailer].
I come from the countryside and it’s easier for me to tell stories that unfold in this setting. It’s a process of transposition. My themes become stronger in this setting because they are coupled with a confrontation with nature. We’re not in a context that gives rise to this type of subject and this creates a contrast that I find interesting. Nature increases the universality of my characters. It enables me to refocus on them.
And the river is like the continuous thread running through the film?
Yes, you could say that. I lived on a boat for 18 years and I still sail on the inland waterways. In The Giants, the river has something maternal about it which compensates for the absence these teenagers feel. It has a womb-like dimension. Water carries us and there is something extremely soothing about letting yourself be carried away by the flow. It’s also a route towards a journey for these youngsters. The current takes them towards the horizon, towards something much better and towards life in the end.
Do you do your location scouting after the writing phase?
No. I write whilst at the same time scouting for locations and my settings influence the screenplay. I also listen to a lot of music when I write.