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Felix Van Groeningen • Director of Beautiful Boy

"Filming Beautiful Boy in the US was a very profound experience for me"

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- We met up with the Flemish director Felix Van Groeningen to talk about his new feature, Beautiful Boy – the first film he’s shot in the United States

Felix Van Groeningen  • Director of Beautiful Boy

We met up with the Flemish director Felix Van Groeningen (The Misfortunates [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Felix van Groeningen
film profile
]
, The Broken Circle Breakdown [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Felix van Groeningen
interview: Felix Van Groeningen
interview: Felix Van Groeningen
film profile
]
, Belgica [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Artemio Benki, Sylvie Leray
interview: Felix Van Groeningen
film profile
]
) following today's Belgian release of his new feature, Beautiful Boy, by The Searchers –  his first American film, shot with Plan B (the company founded by Brad Pitt) and Amazon Studios. Groeningen has also just won the Hollywood Breakthrough Director Award at the Hollywood Film Awards.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Cineuropa: How did your American adventure begin?
Felix Van Groeningen
: I was in Los Angeles promoting The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium’s Oscar nominee) and happened to cross paths with the international filmmaker industry. I met with representatives from Brad Pitt’s company, Plan B, who told me about a project that was very important to them. The adaptation of two books, two memoirs by a father and son, David and Nic Sheff, and their battle with the son's drug addiction. Reading the two books opened my eyes to a lot of things, I felt a lot of love for the family, and I decided that I was the right person to make the film. It took quite a long time, but I'm very happy with it.

Adapting not one but two books is quite a challenge.
Working on the adaptation of one book is already a tall order, you have to strip a lot back, so of course, when you have to do that with two books, some pretty drastic action is involved. The father's journey was very clear from the beginning, he was at the heart of the story. But being able to simultaneously access Nic's tragedy from the inside helped to enrich the whole experience considerably. I wanted viewers to empathise with Nic, and so I chose to show him at pivotal moments, not only when he is taking drugs, but also when he is better, or when he has relapsed, in order to allow viewers to better understand how he functions. And to better understand his father's distress.

Music has always played a very important role in your films, which often feature very powerful soundtracks. You only worked with pre-existing songs in this film.
Music has always been very important to David and Nic Sheff, they share the same music taste, the same enthusiasm, so I wanted to share their music with viewers, too. During the editing stage, my editor, Nico Leunen really encouraged me to use intradiegetic songs, and to work with the soundtrack that way. And of course, whereas in Belgium you always have to worry about the budget, here suddenly, the possibilities were endless! We were even able to use songs in their entirety, without having to worry about budget issues, which brought us real artistic freedom.

The film stars Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet – was that also part of the luxury of the American adventure?
Well, of course. Steve Carell is a genius. He can do it all, he's an incredible comedian, but he has such a profound sense of drama too. As for Timothée Chalamet, his genius lies in his willingness to try anything, and obviously, he has huge talent.

What was the American experience like?
It was a very profound experience for me. I lived in the United States for almost a year and a half, and although I have no intention of settling down over there, the project invoked some very strong feelings in me. I have several projects lined up at the moment, but I don't quite know where I'm headed yet. I became a father for the first time not long ago, and I think I need to recharge my batteries a little before deciding on where the next two or three years of my life are going to take me!

(Translated from French)

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