Robin Pront's feature debut D'Ardennen is doing well in Dutch and Belgian cinemas, and there is already interest in an American remake. A conversation about psychology, violence and ostriches. "I am fascinated by people with a different moral compass."
By Kees Driessen
Robin Pront has assembled an impressive cast for his directorial debut. There's Veerle Baetens from The Broken Circle Breakdown. There's Jan Bijvoet from Alex van Warmerdam's Borgman. As is Jeroen Perceval, who – like Sam Louwyck – we also saw in Michaël Roskam's Rundskop, the Oscar-nominated crime film that launched Matthias Schoenaerts' international career. In fact, if you were to toss these three films into a jar and give it a good shake, you'd end up with a pretty good idea of the tone of D'Ardennen.
Pront's film starts off in a social realist style akin to The Broken Circle Breakdown. Kenny (Kevin Janssens) has just got out of jail and wants his Sylvie (Baetens) back; she, however, is now trying to live as a respectable member of the middle classes with his brother Dave (Perceval). Sylvie and Dave don’t dare tell Kenny this. What follows becomes every bit as criminally violent as Rundskop, and as absurd as Van Warmerdam. Although Pront, when I talk to him in Rotterdam, prefers to refer to Quentin Tarantino.
There aren't so many crime films made in Belgium. Why is that?
"To be honest, I really don't know. It does make it all the more attractive to make one – and it's a genre I really feel at home in. I am fascinated by people who take decisions I would probably never, ever take. People with a different kind of moral compass."
Was Rundskop an example for you?
"That was an important film for me, yes. As a source of inspiration, but also because I was being taught by Michaël Roskam at the time, and I got the feeling something special was happening. It was a confirmation that it was possible, also in an international context."
Interest has also been expressed internationally in D'Ardennen – in America. What's the state of play there?
"They want to make a kind of Latino version, in Florida. Cuban. Something like the vibe of Dexter. Sounds ok to me. But I don't really know exactly. It's not something I'm heavily involved in."
Would you like to go to the States yourself?
"Maybe. My next project is set in America, and centres around a prison. But I still have to make a start on that."
What do you think when American critics compare your film with the Coen brothers' Fargo?
"I am flattered, but I wasn't specifically thinking of that film while making mine. Of course, it could just be that there’s a lot of snow."
And a detached limb.
And there's the same combination of serious protagonists in a violent story with humour, but which never becomes ridiculous.
"Yes, yes, that is true. But Fargo... that is really a very, very high level."
D'Ardennen revolves around brothers Kenny and Dave. How did you envisage their relationship?
"They are two brothers who talk a hell of a lot, but never about the right things. They really, urgently need to talk about their emotions, but this macho culture doesn't allow them to. I really tried not to make it too good guy / bad guy. Kenny does terrible things, but he also suffers the pangs of love. And there is humour. I think there are also a lot of things to love about him. Kenny is too noisy, but Dave is actually too quiet. And cowardly. Kenny should make a little more noise and Kenny a little less, ha ha! Good screenplays are always about the art of subtlety."
But the last half an hour turns this around. After the subtle psychology, we suddenly end up in Tarantino territory.
"I had a whole lot of fun writing that last half hour. Set up all the pieces on the board and then just let it go. That's really good to do. Some people love it and others have problems with it. I knew there would be these kinds of reactions. But then, I’m one of the few people who really loves Tarantino's From Dusk Till Dawn."
That is indeed another film that has this radical switch of tone. How did you know it would work in D'Ardennen?
"Because my characters don't change that much. They are still from the same film. They don't suddenly start behaving really differently. What changes is the environment and the people around them. That's what made me think I could get away with it. Although I did have a few doubts about the ostriches. They are from a version that was much more of a black comedy. In the end, we left most of that humour out."
Where is the limit in terms of violence, for you?
"The limit? I don't really know. For me, it all grew organically. At one point there was a scene in which a tongue got ripped out, but I left that out. That went really far. But then again, when I see the film now, I think we could have left it in."
The title, D'Ardennen, sounds like the Dardennes – the most famous filmmakers in Belgium. Is that a joke?
"No, absolutely not."
Did that not cross your mind?
"Yes, the whole time, ha ha! I even thought a lot about changing the title, but I couldn't think of a better one. And now it appeals to me, actually."