Together is honoured to chat with the Wallonian cinematic maestros, JeanPierre and Luc Dardenne, whose work is marked by simple human stories that have been the recipients of numerous international awards.
In 1999 with Rosetta and 2005 with The Child, the brothers lifted the Palme D’Or at Cannes, notable recognition for Belgian cinema on the Croisette and, most recently, their film Lorna’s Silence was awarded Best Screenplay in Cannes 2008.
Their latest work, Le gamin au vélo (2011) explores familiar territory, with a young boy, Cyril (Thomas Doret) who’s abandoned by his father and left in the responsibility of unqualified childcare provider Samantha (Cécile De France).
Together: How you were influenced by the Italian neo-realism cinema?
JP & L: I really don’t know if you can find Italian neo-realism in our films, but in this movie you do find the bicycle and a boy. Jean Pierre and I when we were young, at the age of 16, we saw some Italian movies of Rossellini for example; for sure these movies more unconsciously than consciously influenced us a lot. To give you an idea I can quote remarkable movies like: Rome Ville ouverte, Allemagne année zero, Europe 51, Paisà, L’amore and Les Onze Fioretti de François d’Assise. We also loved Pasolini – these masters were and are very important to us. But it’s up to you to say if you see this influence in our movies.
How did you work on the different characters?
We wanted to show the story of a boy who is alone in the world who meets a woman and the big question is whether this woman will be able to save him, and whether the boy will accept her love and allow himself to be saved? As far as the motivation of the woman Samantha, played by Cecile de France is concerned, when she meets the young boy Cyril for the first time, he the suddenly embraces her so passionately that they both fall to the ground. It is at this moment Samantha that understands that the boy will change her life too, and she has to decide whether to offer her love to help and save him.
There are two negative protagonists in the movie, the father and the drug dealer. What were your inspirations for these two characters?
We see the real father who abandons his son because he wants to be free of obligations, then we have another man, the drug dealer, who could be a second father. He shows the boy an unknown, seductive world, but it’s an illusion – first he has to accept not being loved by his father, and this is very difficult, even though Samantha is helping him. Then the second man arrives, and Cyril is forced to accept that he’s being lied to all over again. The story of the movie is constructed around a boy who has to shirk his illusions thanks to someone he loves.
Where did you find the inspiration for the story?
It’s always very difficult to answer such a question, but it started with a story that someone told us many years ago while we were in Japan, the story of a Japanese boy in the same situation as Cyril; the boy in this case was left by his father in an orphanage, then never came back. We were very touched by the story, we spoke a lot about it, then the character of Samantha came about, and it is she who is in some way pre-destined to save Cyril. So we took out the ‘Japanese boy’, put the two protagonists together and this was the start of the story.
You both travel a lot, which are the cultures that have most influenced you?
We are deeply European, even though we are interested in other cultures.
Our films are always developed in the area of Seraing, where we have worked for many years, but at the same time we believe that they are universal stories.
We normally don’t travel a lot; it’s our movies in fact that have given us the opportunity. It’s true that travelling is very interesting, not for filming, but to discover other ways of living, which makes you reflect on your own daily life.
How do you feel to be back on the Croisette at this point in your careers?
We have been in Cannes previously with different films, this time we are very hopeful because the movie has been selected for the competition. We obviously feel the tension concerning the critics that we will be facing, even though, for the first time, the film will be release in other European countries such as Italy, Switzerland, Belgium and France at the same time as Cannes. In short, as directors we’re obviously very anxious, but in a positive way, about how the movie will be received.
Are you thinking about working on previously unexplored topics or genres?
We have other ideas with other scripts we have written, but we will continue working in the same direction, because I don’t think it’s our thing to do ‘genre’ movies, such as a musical comedy, a western, a ‘noir’ or a war movie. But, you never know…il faut jamais etre prophete de son propre travail!