The Giants

The Giants

****

Reviewed by: Robert Munro

The Giants is a delicate, thoughtful and charming film depicting a summer in the lives of three teenagers – two of them brothers – in rural Belgium. The three boys, stifled by boring (although beautifully photographed) surroundings and uncaring adults, seek adventure and mischief in typically teenage boy fashion – inviting inevitable comparisons with forebears such as Stand By Me and The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn.

Like the aforementioned adolescent boy coming-of-age-adventure tales, The Giants - while being funny and amiable - is underpinned by a darkening sense of threat which provides a crucial source of tension throughout.

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Brothers Zak and Seth have been abandoned by their parents in their dead Grandfather’s house for the summer. They team up with similarly-minded Dany, who seems to have more of a handle on the locals than the brothers, and scores them some weed in an early attempt to bond with them in their disenchantment with the adult world. Their locality is less charming, quaint, stone-built farmhouse rural continental Europe and more like a grim British estate – populated with junkyards, caravans and nasty-looking dogs tied up to posts.

These locations are where the boys run into the most trouble, chiefly in the forms of drug-dealer Beef and his minion Angel (Dany’s older and substantially meaner brother). These bleak settings are surrounded by lush landscapes where the boys relative freedom and sense of adventure is accentuated by plenty of wide-angled or overhead shots showing the trio in expansive fields or rowing down the river Huck Finn style.

There are some aspects of the plot which require a degree of faith from the viewer (the negligence of their parents is very sketchily explained), however, the central performances from the teenagers are anchored in such a natural, easy charm that you can’t help but be drawn into their story. Each of the young characters has a persona that is distinctly their own – the actors enhancing an excellent script with their own behavioural nuances to really make you believe in their relationship with one and other.

Whenever the three kids are together and, basically, bullshitting and fooling around the way teenage boys do, the film works like a charm. It may be one of them having a wee off the end of the boat and accidentally whizzing all over himself and their little raft; or the three of them around the fire at night telling tall tales of murder and how you actually know when someone is dead (it’s the roll of the eyes); or even their quite disturbing reasons for eating food as spicy as possible – whatever it is, these scenes are infinitely endearing.

Inevitably though, that gnawing sense of threat and darkness that has been hidden underneath the easy friendship of the three must come to a head. Abandoned by their parents and desperate for money, they find themselves ruthlessly exploited by local gangster Beef into selling their Grandfather’s house, car and possessions for a pittance. Things don’t get a whole lot better for them from here on in.

Despite the tale taking a darker twist, this is where the teenage performances really shine through. They begin to argue with one and other and sulk miserably for the first time, almost in a Lord of the Flies situation - the kids cut off from the adult world beginning to turn on each other. However, Lanners' film is much more optimistic than that and just a couple of squeaky farts later they are all the best of friends again, laughing and joking – ready to tackle the unknown together.

What director (Bouli Lanners) and writers (Lanners and Elise Ancion) serve to remind us of here is that children have that magical power to escape from misery and make the best of it – much like Lillian Gish’s narration reminds us at the end of the best children-on-the-lam movie, The Night Of The Hunter: “They endure”. While The Giants doesn’t have as cosy an ending as that film, it does leave us with hope. We hope these kids don’t turn into the cold, hard-hearted thugs that populate their neighbourhood. And, somehow, the sight of the three of them rowing down the river like Huck Finn offers us that hope.

Reviewed on: 12 Nov 2011
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Coming-of-age yarn which takes a cue from Mark Twain and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
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Director: Bouli Lanners

Writer: Bouli Lanners, Elise Ancion

Starring: Zacharie Chasseriaud, Martin Nissen, Paul Bartel, Karim Leklou, Didier Toupy

Year: 2011

Runtime: 84 minutes

Country: Belgium, France, Luxembourg


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If you like this, try:

Stand By Me