Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah • Directors
"We've always dreamed of making a gangster film"
by Aurore Engelen
- We met up with Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah to talk about their explosive new film, Gangsta
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film profile], two very dark films that established Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah as a director duo in Belgian cinema, expectations were understandably high for their new film. In Patser – Gangsta [+see also:
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film profile], they change register, conjuring up an explosive cinematic fantasy, a funny and highly energetic gangster film, whose formal excesses react strikingly to the escapades of its heroes.
Cineuropa: How did this project come about?
Adil El Arbi:It's probably worth noting that Antwerp is the historical cocaine capital of Europe. In 2013, four young people stole some coke from the Colombian mafia, resulting in a gang war in the Netherlands, which is still going on to this day! We were also inspired by the story of a group of police officers who beat up some illegal immigrants to rob them of drugs and money.
Bilall Fallah:We've always dreamed of making a gangster film, and this was the perfect story! We’re always talking about crime in Brussels, as if Flanders is totally clean...
Adil El Arbi:Yet 200 to 300 tonnes of coke pass through Antwerp every year, and the residents of Antwerp, with all their money and fair hair, consume a lot of it. Sure, Brussels may have its gangs, but Antwerp loves its coke!
Have you adopted an aesthetic that is directly inspired by video games?
Bilall Fallah: The young people we’re talking about play a lot of video games, and end up seeing life as one big video game. When they play GTA 4, they feel like Tony Montana in Scarface! It’s become a sort of reality for them, they no longer see the difference.
Adil El Arbi: The new generation of gangsters has of course grown up with films, but they’ve also grown up with video games and rap music. So, it made sense for us to adopt this flashy aesthetic, to avoid something too realistic that’s shot in varying shades of grey. A "patser" is someone who is bit of a poser, a show-off. We had to remain consistent. Subtlety seemed a bit prohibitive. We wanted the film to explode in all directions.
The narrative follows the seven deadly sins, where did this come from?
Adil El Arbi: It's a tribute to gangster films, where religion plays a dominant role, especially since it’s in the blood of our main character, Matteo. He’s half Italian, so he is culturally obsessed with Catholicism. Flanders is also historically a Catholic country. The combination of the seven deadly sins and the kind of step-by-step narrative progression you find in video games attracted us.
What were your main influences?
Adil El Arbi: American gangster films of course, but closer to home in Belgium we were inspired by films such as The Barons [+see also:
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film profile]. The director of that film, Nabil Ben Yadir – who has followed us since the beginning – actually produced Gangsta. He also co-wrote the script with us, he's even in the film! It's a bit like the Flemish version of The Barons for us. We wanted to find energy, humour, and also some originality in its form. Whereas The Barons ponders what it’s like to be a young man of Moroccan descent in Brussels, we pose the same question about Antwerp.
Bilall Fallah: We also loved City of God, which had a lasting impression on us, as well as films by John Woo, Tarantino, Spike Lee...
You're also simultaneously developing a career in America...
Bilall Fallah: It's a very ambivalent experience. You get a lot of comfort when shooting, and a big budget. On the flipside, it's primarily about business, you constantly have to report back to producers and studios. Every artistic choice has to be discussed at length. It can be frustrating, but we have learned to justify our decisions and to weigh up the pros and cons. So, when we came back to make Gangsta, it was also sort of an artistic liberation!
How do you position yourselves in terms of market players such as Netflix?
Adil El Arbi: People say that Netflix is killing cinema, but people have been saying that sort of thing for years, and cinema is still here today. We just have to adapt. Netflix gives directors great freedom, they dare to take risks. If we continue to restrict ourselves, and only produce very generic films, directors will go to Netflix, and audiences will follow. But we want to continue making films for the cinema, and to show them in cinemas. We made Gangsta for the cinema, and there’s no chance we’re selling it to Netflix. It's a spectacular film, designed for the big screen. Netflix can give us all the money in the world, but we’ll be screening Gangsta at the cinema!
(Translated from French)
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