Coming-of-age tale out of Belgium.
If the name fails to ring a bell, then perhaps a list of credits will do the trick. For two decades now, Bouli Lanners has been a regular presence in French popular cinema. He’s currently on cinema screens as I type thanks to a supporting turn in Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone and there have been similar roles in the likes of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement, a pair of live-action Astérix movies, opposite Gérard Depardieu in Mammuth, and in the stop-motion craziness of A Town Called Panic. Back in his native Belgium Lanners also has his popularity as a television comedian to fall back plus, increasingly, his career as a filmmaker. Following a number of short films (including 2001’s multi-award-winning Muno) he made the shift into features with 2005’s Ultranova, which played in British cinemas and secured a DVD release (Noel reviewed the disc for the Digital Fix here). His second feature, semi-comic road movie Eldorado, wasn’t quite so lucky, though UK distributors have taken an interest once more for feature number three, The Giants.
This latest venture is a coming-of-age tale, concerning itself with three young teenage boys, each of whom has a less than stable home life. Two are brothers, currently living in their recently deceased grandfather’s house and scavenging for food from their neighbour’s cellar. Their mother is alive but working abroad; the only contact comes through occasional phone calls. The other boy similarly lacks any kind of supervision or guidance. He subject to regular beaten by his older brother, who works as a heavy for the local drug dealer, and lacks anything like a conventional role model. Together this trio forge a kinship as they navigate both their bleak outlooks in life plus the usual teenage difficulties. After all, they are just boys – eager to goof about as they fend off boredom or to dull the pain with the odd spliff or stolen bottle of booze.
In interviews Lanners has stated that a preference for the school of social realism typified by Mike Leigh and Ken Loach as opposed to that of his compatriots the Dardennes. Despite the miserable sounding subject matter he refuses to revel too much in the more depressing aspects, instead seeking out the comparatively lighter moments. Key to achieving the right tone are the three central performances, all from relative newcomers. In Lanners’ eyes they’re not bad kids – despite a bit of breaking and entering or underage drinking – just ones attempting to cope under dire circumstances. He lets the humour and companionship of this threesome come to fore, which proves to be a far more attractive prospect than taking a judgemental stance. Indeed, when paired with Jean-Paul de Zaetijd’s beautiful widescreen photography, The Giants shows itself to be far more enticing than it initially appears.
There are flaws. The pace is a little meandering at times as though Lanners’ attention has wandered even within the fairly brisk 80-minute running time. Meanwhile, the score by the Bony King of Nowhere (a Radiohead reference – and their influence can be clearly heard, particularly in the vocal style) seems somewhat at odds with the material. It’s folksy and elegiac whereas The Giants has a harder edge. Intermittently sentimental perhaps, but nevertheless showing sufficient toughness when required. Unfortunately, both this mismatch and the tendency to meander dull its impact somewhat. Whereas Lanners perhaps hoped for comparisons to Stand by Me (or even Jacob Aaron Estes’ underrated 2004 feature Mean Creek), he falls a little short.
The Giants comes to UK DVD courtesy of Artificial Eye. The region-free disc also turns out to be extras-free, though its presentation is a pleasing one. The film is presented in its original ratio of 2.35:1 (anamorphically enhanced) and looks as crisp and clean as you would expect from such a recent production. Damage is non-existent, colours are strong and the level of detail very good. Indeed, de Zaetijd’s excellent cinematography is done full justice. As for the soundtrack here we find a choice of either DD2.0 or DD5.1 with optional English subtitles. Once again, crispness and clarity are the order of the day with both dialogue and score proving problem-free throughout.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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