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TORONTO 2021 Contemporary World Cinema

Bouli Lanners • Director of Nobody Has to Know

“I told myself that at 54, I could finally tell a love story”


- Cineuropa met with the Belgian filmmaker who is presenting his latest film, a real departure from his previous work since it is a love story and in English

Bouli Lanners  • Director of Nobody Has to Know
(© Aurore Engelen)

We met with Belgian filmmaker Bouli Lanners, who is presenting in Toronto in the Contemporary World Cinema section, his latest film, Nobody Has to Know [+see also:
film review
interview: Bouli Lanners
film profile
, which offers a real departure from his previous films since it is a love story, in English, shot on the Scottish island of Lewis, in which he stars together with Michelle Fairley.

Cineuropa: What were the origins of the project?
Bouli Lanners:
For more than 30 years, I’ve been going to Scotland every year. I love that country, and I’d wanted to shoot there for a while. I could well imagine how to put those landscapes into images, but I didn’t have a story. And then I settled on the island of Lewis for several months. I particularly like this island because it’s a presbyterian island, and it has something connected to the past. There, I listened a lot to one particular song, Wise Blood, and it’s that song that gave me the idea of telling a love story there. And then I told myself that at 54, I could finally tell a love story, but with people my age. Previously, I would forbid myself from doing it. A failed comedy, it’s horrible, but a failed love story, I think it’s worse than anything.

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A love story that is also led by its heroine, who takes control of her destiny.
I’ve always been told that in my films, there aren’t many women. But now suddenly, I thought that I could, with my experience, talk about women without falling into cliches.

Who is Millie, actually? What is the trigger that makes her decide to try and change her life?
She has this nickname, The Ice Queen, that she can’t get rid off. She’s stuck on this island. I come from the countryside, I can imagine what it is, this weight of the community. Especially since it’s impossible to find a partner on the island, there are none left, they all went away. So she takes the leap, she decides to lie. Phil’s amnesia makes everything possible, brings down barriers. She can make him believe anything. Reformat him. Of course, with her morals and her education, that’s the worst thing she could do, but she does it anyway. She finds an opening, and even if it only lasts 3 weeks or a month, at least it will have happened once in her life.

It’s a complete change of territory for you, at once geographical, linguistic, thematic, is that a way to put yourself in danger?
I’ve always been told that it was good to step out of one’s comfort zone, and here I certainly was in a zone of total discomfort. But the human and artistic adventure has been exceptional. I had said anyway, after The First, The Last [+see also:
film review
interview: Bouli Lanners
film profile
, that I wanted to break from what I had done before. I had made 4 very auteurist films. I wanted to try something for a potentially bigger audience, without betraying anything about who I am, of course.

Was there also the desire to be a romantic hero, as an actor?
At first, I wasn’t meant to play the part. I had found someone, but they got scared of going to Scotland and getting stuck there. So my agent and my producer told me: “Just do it!” However, acting in English was a real challenge, on top of directing in English too. I was worried that I’d go into performance or style exercise, while I simply wanted to make a film. To direct oneself in a love story, and watch the takes afterwards, it’s very complicated. And that’s when I took out all the sex scenes (laughs)!

What are your current projects?
I’m fine-tuning the adaptation of a novel by Serge Joncour, Nature Humaine, which received the Prix Femina (read the news). It’s a chronicle, which is completely new for me. The film shows, through the story of a young person who takes over the family farm, how all the wrong decisions were taken regarding agriculture between 1976 and 1999. I think I’ve found the throughline and I’m very excited, because it’ll be the first time that there will be a more political dimension in one of my films, which matches with my civic and ecological convictions. Making another film like the ones I’ve made before, I don’t see the point anymore; the world has changed so much, we are facing such emergencies.

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(Translated from French)

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