by Anne Feuillère & Sarah Pialeprat
- A debut Belgian feature which happily explodes our preconceptions about the North African community, integration, Brussels and its working-class areas
Hassan, Aziz and Mounir lead a "privileged" life. Les Barons [+see also:
Interview with director and actress of…
interview: Nabil Ben Yadir
film profile] , as they call themselves, spend their days lying around in front of a grocer’s shop making wisecracks and when they get up, it’s to go and sign on at the unemployment office. In this apathetic daily life, they have invented their own legend, which involves saving their credit of footsteps to avoid dying prematurely. This is a way of sticking two fingers up at the world and not fully growing up… Because refusing to bow to social pressures is quite an art. And the height of class is to embrace one’s idleness with grandeur and insolence.
Hassan dreams of being a rabble-rouser in theatres; a champion joke-teller, he is determined to one day get up on stage and talk about this daily life which inspires him. But in his family, "acting the clown" is not a job. His father dreams of seeing his son become a good husband and father, in a nice blue uniform, driving a nice yellow bus.
This is a plan Hassan could easily fall into. If it weren’t for the barons and beautiful Malika, the neighbourhood star and TV newsreader, a strong woman who battles against those who try to prevent her from doing what she wants and is never at a loss for words. But she is, unfortunately, Mounir’s sister and "you don’t touch a mate’s sister".
In his debut feature, Les Barons, Nabil Ben Yadir serves up wisecracks with a generous dose of cheeky humour and biting verve, taking the edge off difficult subjects (racism, virginity and religion) and clichés. Beneath its aura of popular comedy, the film is surprising and full of original ideas, subtle or spectacular creations (cartoonesque "flashback", mimed text messages, dreamlike slow-motion sequences) and moments of brilliance (a John Woo-style brawl).
Playful in its approach, Les Barons also depicts a host of colourful characters without ever caricaturing or betraying them. The film captures them in their contradictions, weaknesses and fears (the rage felt by Mounir, magnificent in his dignity and rebellion; the father’s stifling desire for social success, he himself a prisoner of this yet-to-be-achieved respectability).
The film also looks at the act we put on for ourselves and others in order to escape who we really are. And far from praising some dubious notion of integration, the film has a profound message: unfortunately, we always choose who we want to be in opposition to our family. And sometimes, we don’t choose who we want to be. This is the risk Hassan takes, in the long journey towards himself that is recounted in this light-hearted and cheeky, tender and subtly serious film.
In a beautiful and colourful Brussels, like a small New York, there is a collision of different worlds, which are no longer unaware of each other, but quietly struggle along. And everything becomes possible in the end. As long as you believe in your dreams, regardless of everyone around you.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.