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MONS 2023

Zeno Graton • Director of The Lost Boys

“Without love, we are not free”


- The young Belgian filmmaker talks about the origins, the details and the questions of his first feature, a free and dazzling love story between two young boys

Zeno Graton  • Director of The Lost Boys

A meeting with the young Belgian filmmaker Zeno Graton, who this week presents his first feature film The Lost Boys [+see also:
film review
interview: Zeno Graton
film profile
, discovered at the Berlinale in the Generation section, in a Belgian premiere at the Love International Film Festival in Mons. The film is a free and dazzling love story between two young boys placed in a detention centre for minors, a love affair as if suspended in the heart of a potentially hostile place, magnified by a demanding artistic direction with a strong lyricism.

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Cineuropa: What are the origins of the project?

Zeno Graton: I think there are two triggers. First, the placement of my cousin when I was a teenager in an institution of this type, and his treatment which proved to be ineffective and inefficient. I wanted to talk about this place in a non-manichean way. The second founding element was reading Jean Genêt, and seeing his short film Un chant d'amour, which allowed me to emancipate myself from the question of desire, in fact to build my desire, a model for me also as a citizen, in his struggles with the Black Panthers, the Palestinians, Ulrike Meinhof, and through his critical view of institutions.

It is a love story that is all the more powerful because it is never questioned by the lovers, it is lived fully from the start, which is quite rare in films that deal with queer love stories.

I wanted to give this love story conflicts and issues linked to romantic passion, lack, betrayal. These issues are often absent from queer love stories, stories that I didn't find myself in. I wanted to show a perhaps slightly utopian representation of the issue, with the desire to propel the viewer towards the next part, another moment perhaps of the story. I started writing this film a long time ago, and I've seen the world evolve through time. The new generations are no longer apologetic, they are fluid, powerful.

The question that also emerges is: where is the freedom?

This is the main axis. From the very beginning, we feel that Joe will be able to get out soon, he has a clear path in terms of rehabilitation, but it's something he doesn't want, because there's no one to love outside. I wanted to emphasise the idea that love can be a place where you can find your freedom, and that without love we are not free. William's arrival acts as a catalyst for this freedom, which he will find with someone else, which will be much more desirable than a freedom imposed by the institution and which he did not choose. This love becomes an invisible territory, stolen from within an institution where it is forbidden. The French title, Le Paradis (heaven), echoes this territory they are stealing, as opposed to the hell that the place represents.

Is the very careful art direction, the lyricism that emerges from the film, also a political gesture, i.e. showing the beauty in these love stories?

I originally studied cinematography. We wanted to take a step away from the codes of the social film, even if it meant derealising certain things in terms of image and sound to let the audience know that we were in a fable. We wanted to elevate the story to a place of lyricism that seemed important to us in order to exacerbate the passion, to tell it in Cinemascope with travellings and bright colours, rather than with a handheld camera in a tighter frame, with naturalistic colours, which I had explored in my previous short film. We wanted to literally and metaphorically open up the screen. Music played a huge role in creating the emotion, but also in telling Joe's story and his roots, creating the reconnection with his North African origins. I'm half Tunisian, and while I am white passing, and I didn't experience racism as a child, it's something I experienced with certain members of my family. The issue of confinement and institutional racism was obvious to me. And the fact that this love song is an Arab song was also a way of addressing this issue.

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(Translated from French)

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