Bouli Lanners • Director
"Wanderers trying to recreate the family unit"
by Aurore Engelen
- Cineuropa caught up with Bouli Lanners upon the release of his new film, The First, The Last, an existential story about love and the twilight of life.
With The First, The Last [+see also:
interview: Bouli Lanners
film profile], Bouli Lanners hits the road again, bumping into a handful of wanderers looking for love and humanity in a twilight atmosphere that feels like the end of the world, a dark film that moves towards the light
Cineuropa: Where did the idea for the film come from?
Bouli Lanners: I often get these flashes of inspiration to make films. In this case, it was the setting, the sight of this hover train crossing the Beauce. At the time, I wanted to address the extremely pessimistic feeling gripping the western world, this slightly gloomy twilight feeling. I wanted to address it through people who think it’s the end of the world, and through a type of illness that leaves the patient facing the reality of imminent death. But the question was: how do we spend the time we have left on this Earth? I’m not preaching chaos, but love, I think we should spend the time we have left living our lives to the full, with people. I wanted to find a way of addressing this, incorporating God, something very complex in short! And then slowly but surely, the story started to come together around the characters of Cochise and Gilou, because I didn’t want a dogmatic film either, I wanted something that resembled a detective film or a western, something of a mix between the two. The film is all about existential crises in a time when we’re seeing a huge shift in society. After all, it’s the first time in history that mankind has been afraid of the future, no? I don’t think we should let this pessimistic way of thinking get the upper hand, the alternative is too horrific to bear thinking about.
This film heralds your return in front of the camera…
It’s a very personal film. I’m a believer, and even though this isn’t a film about God, I think it’s an important issue to explore. I had the same illness as my character, which fully prepared me for the film; I became Gilou. I’ve never been so close to one of my characters. It served as a sort of cleansing experience for me too, like Gilou, helping me to look on the bright side of things.
It’s also a film about the family you build around yourself…
I always notice families completely ripped apart, wanderers who try to gather together and build a family unit. It must be an obsession of mine. It’s also why the film is called The First, The Last, because I think this is something unique to modern man, this obsession with wanting to piece together a family, a clan, something that makes us feel safe.
Your films are very pictorial, how did you approach the photography?
I work very closely with my chief cameraman, Jean-Paul De Zaeytijd. As soon as I finished The Giants [+see also:
interview: Bouli Lanners
film profile], I knew that I wanted to make a darker film, with this reflected in the photography as well as the plot. I always need to scout out locations while I’m writing; I do both at the same time. I make the leap from the writing to the visuals with my chief cameraman and my assistant, showing them the scenery. I often refer more to paintings than film with Jean-Paul. For this film, my points of reference were my own paintings. I used to paint before I started to make films, and whilst I don’t really have time to paint anymore, I will go back to it one day. Painting is one of my first loves.
Music is also a strong aesthetic element of your films.
I need music to write, I make a small compilation with a few tracks that I listen to on loop. It’s a sort of refrain that allows me to write, to imbue my writing with emotion. By the time the screenplay is finished, I have around a dozen or so of these tracks, which serve as my point of reference. I wanted to work with Pascal Humbert, whose music I was listening to, right from the start. It’s him that pinned down all these groups that inspired me, Detroit, Wovenhands, 16 Horsepower. He wrote some additional tracks too, and bought the rights to certain others.
What about the cast?
For my dog and I, it was easy. When it came to finding Esther and Willy, David Murgia quickly became an obvious choice; he had this really positive energy. I then had to find Esther, which was a more delicate process, as these were very fragile roles on paper. I stumbled upon Aurore Broutin by chance: when I received her audition video I was blown away, I thought she was just like Esther, and when I got her on the phone I realised I was dealing with a true fighter! Cochise, for me, was Albert (Dupontel) and no one else. He has this way, like a cold-blooded animal, of drawing out the potential for violence, which rises to the surface, and that’s not saying much about him. For the two older gentlemen, Michael Lonsdale first sprang to mind; I knew that he’s a believer and might be interested. When he said yes, I had to find someone that would measure up to him, which turned out to be Max von Sydow. For the comedienne, I didn’t want a French actress, as you see all too often in co-productions, I wanted someone out of the ordinary. I saw an interview with Suzanne Clément, in which she didn’t have the accent I knew her for. She was in France, so we met up and I realised it worked. Riaboukine, Bramly and Abélanski are friends of mine, and Rebbot is my brother. We’re a family.
How did you come up with the title?
First off, because it’s a good title that hasn’t already been used! Of course, it clearly contains a reference to God; it’s one of his names. I believe in God because I believe in mankind. The first and the last are us. I believe the first are Esther and Willy, they’re the ghosts of the first humans, pure. And even if we, in these twilight times, are the last, we are still tied to the first by our need to rebuild a family around ourselves, to piece together a clan. As long as there’s this link between men, and love, it will work out.
(Translated from French)
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