The Giants (Les Géants): Cannes 2011 Review

The Giants film still cannes 2011
Cannes Film Festival
Thin plotting is compensated with disarming lead performances and beautiful natural settings in this ambling evocation of adolescent discovery.

The teenage cast members could hardly be better in Bouli Lanners' coming of age tale centered on two Belgian brothers.

CANNES -- Belgian director Bouli Lanners was a painter before he turned to acting and filmmaking, and there’s ample evidence of that background in the sumptuous visuals of The Giants, with lush landscapes and a wooded river setting that show the majestic beauty of nature at its most seductive. Three appealing young actors bring unforced charm, buoyancy and vulnerability to this coming of age story, but the film is held back by lack of meat on its narrative bones. 

Written by Lanners and Elise Ancion, The Giants is a European take on modern Hollywood films about the exhilarating freedoms and jarring dangers of adolescent experience, such as The Outsiders or Stand By Me. The film is more focused on mood and on suggesting the inner lives of its characters than on their adventures and adversities, and its unvarnished depiction of the harsh betrayals and disappointments of the world provides glimmers of a grittier brand of social realism. It’s also slickly packaged, with the kind of high-sheen production values seldom applied to intimately observational storytelling of this type.

Two brothers in their mid-teens, Zak (Zacharie Chasseriaud) and Seth (Martin Nissen), are left to their own devices and dwindling funds by an absentee mother working abroad. Shacked up for the summer at the rural cottage of their late grandfather, they strike up a warm friendship with another unsupervised local teenager, Dany (Paul Bartel). 

Zak, the youngest, feels the sting of abandonment, constantly checking for cell phone messages from his mother. But the three of them basically are just looking to score some weed, go joyriding in grandpa’s beat-up car and stave off boredom by any means available. Seth also is eager to stay out of the way of his violent older brother Angel (Karim Leklou), a psychotic thug who acts as henchman to drug-dealer Beef (Didier Toupy). 
While the emotional aspects are understated and the three young actors convey their feelings less in words than in brief unguarded moments, the loose-limbed action shows a nice grasp of the raw tenderness of youth, as well as the rebellion. The excitement that comes with their sudden independence lends plausibility to the brothers’ dicey scheme to rent out their grandfather’s house to Beef as a base to harvest and distribute his cannabis crop.
The movie’s central section becomes somewhat flaccid as the kids goof off, stealing food from a neighbor’s cellar, breaking into a vacation home to drink the owners’ booze stash, and then obtaining temporary shelter from a kind stranger (Marthe Keller). But Lanners and Ancion bring humor, delicacy and poignant insight to the bonds among boys whose cultivated bravado barely masks their insecurities and their need to be loved.
The gullible trio gets ripped off by Beef and his pitiless cronies, and despite the teens’ perception of themselves as tough and resilient, they are ill-equipped to defend themselves against the cruelties of the adult world. But while this steers the film toward a melancholy conclusion, there’s also bittersweet satisfaction in their gentle steps toward maturity and self-reliance.

Toupy, Leklou and Gwen Berrou as Beef’s amusingly dour cokehead girlfriend provide the villainy in what’s basically a modern twist on a classic dark fairy tale about children lost in the woods. The teenage cast members could hardly be better, particularly the quietly touching Chasseriaud.

Neo-folksy English-language vocals and score by the Bony King of Nowhere (a musical project headed by Belgian composer Bram Vanparys) provides a lovely melodic complement to the action. And Jean-Paul De Zaeytijd’s gorgeous widescreen cinematography (the film was shot on Luxembourg locations, mostly using crisp natural light) helps summon elegiac thoughts of youthful summer idylls.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival, Directors’ Fortnight

Cast: Zacharie Chasseriaud, Martin Nissen, Paul Bartel, Karim Leklou, Didier Toupy, Gwen Berrou, Marthe Keller

Director: Bouli Lanners

Sales: Memento Films International

Production: Versus Production, Haut et Court, Samsa Film

Screenwriters: Bouli Lanners, Elise Ancion

Producers: Jacques-Henri Bronckart, Olivier Bronckart, Jani Thiltges, Carole Scotta, Simon Arnal

Executive producer: Gwennaelle Libert

Director of photography: Jean-Paul De Zaeytijd

Production designer: Paul Rouschop

Music: The Bony King of Nowhere

Costume designer: Elise Ancion

Editor: Ewin Ryckaert

No rating: 84 minutes