Growing up is hard to do for the protags of “The Giants,” the third outing as scribe-helmer for burly Belgian thesp Bouli Lanners (“Eldorado”). Abandoned by their mother in the countryside home of their late grandfather, two underage brothers, plus a tag-along teen, try to inject some movement into their stagnant summer through joyriding and boating trips. But despite some laughs, Lanners’ universe is again more quietly melancholy than simply joyous. Lightweight, structurally somewhat baggy pic in the “Stand by Me” mold should appeal to the actor-director’s Francophone fanbase but won’t leave gigantic B.O. footprints offshore.
Hiding from the world under a green baseball cap that seems welded to his head, 15-year-old Seth (Martin Nissen) seems intent on not letting anyone look him in the eyes. Like Seth, his younger sibling, the open-faced Zak (Zacharie Chasseriaud), is worried about the fact that their mother seems to have left them with little money and no clear sign of when she’ll return. But neither seems to have the attention span to dwell too much on what has happened to them, preferring instead to think about what summertime adventure they’ll tackle next to fend off boredom.
In an effective shot/reverse shot sequence, the boys, driving their granddad’s car, run into local kid Dany (Paul Bartel) on his scooter. Often roughed up by his intimidating older brother, the ironically named hoodlum Angel (Karim Leklou), Dany has become a tough and fearless 15-year-old. The three are soon inseparable, especially after Seth and Zak discover that Dany, via Angel, has connections with Beef (Didier Toupy), a local dealer who could supply them with weed.
The credibility of the film, which winds up somewhere between stylized social realism and dark contempo fairy tale, takes a hit with the overly caricatured depiction of one-note meanie Angel, and is further strained by a highly improbable sequence in which the brothers sell all the furniture and rent out their grandfather’s home to Beef, who plans to transform the home into a cannabis plantation.
The weak motor for the screenplay (written by Lanners in collaboration with the film’s costume designer, Elise Ancion) is the kids’ need to find a new place to crash at night, which leads to a break-in, an alcohol-fueled party and a rowboat that takes them to a rickety riverside hut. But while these scenes are often diverting, they lack any deeper sense of purpose. The young leads don’t seem to gradually mature, and though this might give their obligatory this-is-when-I-grew-up moments more heft, it also makes all that has come before feel rather episodic and slight.
The child actors, while natural and appealing, are somewhat handicapped by inadequate character development. Some scenes, for example, suggest Zak might be gay, but this is neither confirmed nor tied into the ending, when the characters theoretically come into their own. The actor and occasional director’s normally deft hand with his colleagues is more evident in some of the well-cast bit parts, including Toupy as Beef and Gwen Berrou as his g.f., who together must form one of cinema’s oddest-looking couples.
Tonally and visually, the film is pure Lanners. His trademark bittersweet quality, which doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of working-class life and is punctuated with moments of slightly absurd humor, finds its visual equivalent in the beautifully composed, slightly washed-out widescreen images of regular lenser Jean-Paul De Zaeytijd. As in “Eldorado,” the film’s majestic natural tableaux with a vintage touch give the film an entirely un-Belgian feel (pic was actually shot in Luxembourg). Folksy, American-sounding rock score by the Bony King of Nowhere adds another non-Euro touch.