This impressionistic modern-day 'Babes in the Woods' tale from Belgian director Bouli Lanners is an engaging coming-of-ager.
Actor and occasional director Bouli Lanners brings the dry wit and melancholic understatement of his 2005 debut, Ultranova, to the coming-of-age drama in this impressionistic modern-day 'Babes in the Woods' tale.
Brothers Seth (Martin Nissen) and Zak (Zacharie Chasseriaud) are passing a humid summer at their recently deceased grandfather’s house deep in the Belgian countryside, hanging out with local boy Danny (Paul Bartel) and getting up to all kinds of mischief: scoring weed; chugging cheap liquor; and talking (a lot of ) bullshit.
This idyllic pitch is queered by the boys’ rapidly diminishing funds, and it’s clear that mum won’t be coughing up any time soon. She is present only as the unheard side of phone conversations that become shorter and rarer as the three grungeketeers’ desperation lands them a deal with local gangster Beef that is, at best, ill-advised. Homeless and mostly soaked-through, the boys embark on a series of disaster-tinged capers.
In fact, the peril is mild, with Beef more cartoon baddie than Frank Booth-style neighbourhood monster. The film’s real emotional hook – and what allows it to overcome some baggy plotting – is its believable evocation of a pre-adult sense of invincibility. It’s a trait that recalls Dennis Potter’s 'Blue Remembered Hills', a drama which, like The Giants, also captured the hermetic reality of childhood make-believe.
As the boys strike out for their own personal frontier, there are nods, too, to classic American coming-of-agers. In the warmth and trust of their friendship, 1986’s Stand By Me is the most obvious antecedent. But, in fact, the detachment and amoral appetite for destruction displayed by the protagonists is much closer to the teenage alienation on display in that year’s altogether more ambiguous River’s Edge.
The golden light and lush valley setting may take the harsh edge off the film’s bleaker moments, but there’s still a core of gleeful savagery which is ultimately tempered by the looming adult world and the numbness of abandonment.
‘Belgian countryside’? The home of pig-bothering chocolatiers?
Engaging low-key performances and epic landscape photography more than make up for lapses in narrative focus.
Wistful, beautiful-looking but as transient as that land of lost content.