As honest as possible
by Matthieu Reynaert - Cinergie
- Known to the public at large as a "a natural born comedian", who has had supporting roles in comedie and drama, Bouli Lanners has now directed a unexpected film, sad and beautiful
Known to the public at large as a "a natural born comedian" who made a name for himself in belgium television in such programmes as the Snuls, Twin Fliks and J'aime Autant de T'Ouvrir les Yeux; who has had supporting roles in comedies such as Les Convoyeurs attendent, Aaltra, The Return of James Bataille... and in dramas as A Very Long Engagement, L'Autre and, coming shortly, King Kong Paradise by his friend Stefan Liberski; Bouli Lanners has now directed a film which is the opposite of what we would have expected from him. Ultranova [+see also:
interview: Bouli Lanners
film profile] is a film that is sad and beautiful from every perspective. Handling its melancholy and weird humour with subtlety and boasting an attractive cast (see our close-up of Marie Du Bled, Bouli Lanners, writer, mines a rich and personal seam bound to leave its mark on our national cinema.
"I’m not showing the Wallonia (the French-speaking part of Belgium) of the tourist offices in my film" warns Bouli in his presskit. As he explains : "They show a picturesque Wallonia with forests and cows grazing in meadows. But that’s a Wallonia which is slowly but surely disappearing off the face of the earth. I don’t want us to live in some kind of Walloon version of EuroDisney. What some see as picturesque, I see as apocalyptic. The greyer Wallonia that I show is the one that I don’t want to materialise, so it’s right and fitting that I should take the opportunity to show it." And anyway, making a Belgian film is not quite the same thing as making a film about Belgium. "I could have shot my film anywhere. The climate would have been different, but the story would have stayed the same. But the truth is that I live in Liège and am sensitive to anything that moves me in my immediate environment and so of course I went back to those places that I visit regularly, having always been highly sensitive to urban changes, which really get on my nerves but which also emboss solitude with a highly visible poetic enamel. Never does a man feel as lonely as when he’s trying to find his way out of an industrial estate. Every cloud has a silver lining ; that goes for industrial estates, too."
This dark poetic impact, which represents the essence of a film that is not, however, deprived of humour, is not easy to impose when you’ve been typecast as "that daft comedian", as Bouli refers to himself, jokingly. An audience that’s paid their money to have a good laugh might express their disappointment with Ultranova. This gives rise to the theory that Bouli is perhaps erring on the side of caution by deciding not to appear himself in his own film. "What made me decide in particular not to do this was a fear of having to wear two hats, especially as I hadn’t really worn one of them ever before. I love directing actors, even if I don’t like the sound of "director", and I wanted to keep the acting and the directing apart, all the more so as I’m not that comfortable with being an actor, I’m always scared of coming across as clumsy. But it’s true to say that my fame, such as it is, in Wallonia, based on my reputation as a comedian, could backfire when I make a film like this one. Fortunately, this applies only in Wallonia. In the Dutch-speaking parts of the country, no one knows me, and in Germany (where the film was awarded a prize at the Berlin festival) I’m even less well-known! But it’s true that that also influenced my choice." So, what is the target audience? "I haven’t given the subject a moment’s thought. I know it’s not an easy film, and that, at the moment, the market is at saturation point... So I thought, right, I’ll go for it but I want to be as honest as possible because, as soon as we speak sincerely about things that move us, there’s no reason for other people not to be moved whether they be from Wallonia or Uzbekistan. But from what I’ve heard, there is an audience for the film, and that makes me very happy".
And, again, without any prior assumptions, Bouli (who has no television set in the converted barge in which he is the perfect host) has offered the starring role of Dimitri to Vincent Lécuyer, better known for his role as the ingenuous driver-interviewer in the RTBF’s Hep Taxi!. Here we find him playing against type in a "instinctive" performance which owes much to silence and a genuine physical presence. Although the rest of the cast – playing as if to the manor born – comprises for the most part unknowns or absolute beginners, we are not left with the impression of an unfinished film, and thus the first classic pitfall is avoided.
Another pitfall facing low-budget films, which covers just about every Belgian film ever made, is that of neglecting cinematic aesthetics on the grounds of purported technical and financial difficulties. Ultranova shatters this as, from the very off, the search for the right frame and the photographic work are, from the very first images, an integral part of its identity. The director himself can take the credit for this, which works marvellously in the film’s favour, having already used similar techniques in his painting. "It’s my first feature film, and thus a highly personal film. There’s a lot of me in it as I thought that I might never again have the opportunity to do this and so I also wanted something reminiscent of painting." "Cinema frames remind me a little of the shape of my canvasses, that’s why I was intent on shooting in technoscope. When I write, I meander through the set. Later I spend weeks and weeks walking around (and around) with my viewfinder. That means that I’m very familiar with each set from every angle although admittedly sometimes you just have to cross the street, change your standpoint and things change radically, it no longer pays off". "As Jean-Paul (de Zaetijd, the cinematographer) is someone I know well because he was the cameraman on the Snuls, he knows what I like. I prepared frames which he improved courtesy of his sharper awareness. As regards the colour of the film, it was initially intended to be a black-and-white movie. It was only three weeks before we started shooting that we opted for colour as we hadn’t found any persuasive black-and-white drawplate. As we’d expanded from super 16mm to Scope, sharpness suffered, blacks faded into greys, etc... On the other hand, I didn’t just want to make a film in colour, I was after something special, something sad, something similar to my canvasses, i.e. an absence of colour." "We bleached as much as we could to obtain this effect and we expanded the film so as to obtain some grain. You have to remember that, with the new film, you can expand as much as you like and yet get no grain but I miss grain! I need grain ! The screen, for me, has in this case replaced the linen grain of the canvas."
But painting isn’t the only fine art to be used, work on the soundtrack, with the composer Jarby McCoy took place earlier than usual in the development of the film. "We had to have the music at the editing stage so as to be able to add rhythm to the film". "We started off with an urge to use "road" music as we are both fans but then the music evolved, just like the film, and became quite urban, in fact, even more so than the film." An electronic and minimalist composition that almost composed itself, surprising both director and composer/friend in the process. Here again, Bouli doesn’t worry about audience reaction. "If it works on the screen, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Nothing else counts. We didn’t ask the "why" questions". "I’m now one full-length feature film more experienced than I was before, and Jarby has grown with me, with all the accompanying sorrows and joys."
Sorrows and joys, such are the chasms between which Ultranova ventures as along a lengthy, sharpened razor blade, for a result both oppressive and ethereal, a strange mixture in the image of its director: of no mean quality. After this long discussion with Bouli Lanners, it is impossible to doubt his sincerity and the serious but enthusiastic nature of his work. May the patchwork video we now get with all our interviews (and where he talks above all about his experience of the short film) help you sense the immense potential and friendliness of this artist whose film, which will be screened as of 27 April, is a must entry in this cinema diary.
Filmed interview on Cinergie.be