The Giants / Les Géants

Fri, Jul 13, 2012, 01:00

Directed by Bouli Lanners. Starring Zacharie Chasseriaud, Martin Nissen, Paul Bartel, Karim Leklou, Didier Toupy, Gwen Berrou, Marthe Keller Club, Light House, Dublin, 84 min

IT DOESN’T DO to make generalisations about any nation. Still, it comes as a surprise to discover that, on the evidence of this spooky, funny little film, Belgium boasts watery stretches that look uncannily like portions of the American south. Indeed, for much of its duration, The Giants comes across like a European version of Benh Zeitlin’s upcoming, stratospherically praised Delta drama Beasts of the Southern Wild.

The picture concerns the meandering adventures of two untamed young brothers and their equally dissolute pal. Abandoned in a large house once owned by the siblings’ late grandfather, the tearaways hatch a cunning scheme: they will rent the property to a local cannabis dealer and live wildly off the proceeds.

It hardly needs to be said that the plan goes badly wrong. The hoodlum offers them a pittance and then arranges for the house’s contents to be flogged cheaply to East European flim-flam men. Annoyed, but not entirely dispirited, our heroes take to the river and make their way into that unexpected northern bayou.

Bouli Lanners, director of 2008’s wild Eldorado, summons up an entirely unique tone. Danger constantly hangs around the boys. The freshness of their faces and the giddy wit of their conversations can’t quite distract us from the suspicion that the delinquents are heading for an unhappy adulthood.

But Lanners manages to insert such absurd humour into every scene that the atmosphere never becomes oppressive. Sheltering in a shack on the river, they somehow cause that building to crash into the water. One of the boys dresses up in high heels and a dress while drinking himself into a vomiting stupor.

Huckleberry Finn by way of The Three Stooges, The Giants profits from hilariously bemused juvenile performances and soft, hazy cinematography as it drifts its way to an open-ended conclusion that will accommodate both optimists and pessimists. Easily the best Belgian film of the year.