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"You either love the film or you hate it, it doesn’t leave you indifferent"

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Robin Pront • Director


- We caught up with young Belgian filmmaker Robin Pront at the Les Arcs European Film Festival, who has risen to prominence with his debut feature film The Ardennes

Robin Pront  • Director

Having turned a lot of heads with its premiere at Toronto, dark film The Ardennes [+see also:
film review
interview: Robin Pront
film profile
is one of the ten films in competition at the 7th Les Arcs European Film Festival. We caught up with young Belgian filmmaker Robin Pront in the Alpine town to discuss his debut feature, which will be distributed by Diaphana in France on 23 March 2016.

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Cineuropa: How was the project The Ardennes born?
Robin Pront: The screenplay was inspired by a play by Jeroen Perceval, who is also in the film. We made some short films together, he told me about the story and I started working on the screenplay. But in the play there are just three men in the forest, which is very different from the film as it ended up.

After the drugs and hooliganism of your short films, The Ardennes plunges us once again into a very dark world. What is it that attracts you to these violent settings?
I like criminal dramas in general, situations in which the characters make choices that you or I would not. And obviously, to make the film credible, I couldn’t tell a story about Italian mobsters in Belgium, so I focused on creating realistic characters. The film follows a very dark path, it is demanding and intense: either you love it or you hate it, it doesn’t leave you indifferent.

The subject of secret rivalry between two brothers has often been used in cinema. How did you want to broach it?
What I like is that it’s first and foremost a love story. The other theme I was interested in is the impossibility of communication and that’s what I think makes the film original. The music also plays a big role as it’s very strong throughout the film, and the characters can’t bring themselves to talk to one another.

How did you work on the rhythm of the film?
We started with very long sequence shots and in the second part of the film we moved over to handheld camera work. As I didn’t have a lot of time, I took risks with the sequence shots, not doing extra shots to cover myself during editing. Overall, you could call it a slow-burning story that gets very intense in its final half hour.

The opening scene is particularly powerful. Was it already planned out in the screenplay or did it come out during editing?
In actual fact, we shot a "home jacking" scene that I cut during editing. There were six or seven minutes of footage before the story really got going, and I thought that was too slow. So that’s how we ended up with the scene with the character diving into the swimming pool, which wasn’t at all intended as the opening scene of the film. The character actually dove from a window. It works a lot better that way and I have to thank my editor for coming up with the idea and convincing me, as it’s always difficult for a director to discard an entire sequence.

How did you tackle the issue of realism?
We were meticulous when it came to scouting out locations, as in my opinion, the settings are everything. With regard to the visual aspect of the film, I wanted it to be very much anchored in reality, but also stylised, easy on the eye, a bit like the work of the Dardenne brothers, who have a great eye for aesthetics. You don’t notice straight away, but it’s definitely there as they always know how best to place the camera. But I also like American cinema and I try to mix it with European film. Incidentally, a great source of inspiration for The Ardennes was Blue Ruin by Jeremy Saulnier.

How would you explain the wave of dark Flemish films we’re currently seeing?
We fire one another up. When you see Michaël Roskam make a film like Bullhead [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Bart Van Langendonck
interview: Michaël R. Roskam
film profile
, which is fantastic, you realise that anything is possible here. And it’s not over, a new generation is coming and I think that Belgium will fare very well over the next five to ten years.

We hear you’ve been approached to direct in the United States?
I already had the chance to sign on for an American film a while back, but I wanted to take my time and wait for the right project to come along. I really want to shoot there because I grew up with American films and it would be a dream come true to work with idols of my youth like Robert De Niro, to have a bigger budget to work with and a global release.

(Translated from French)

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