Gilles Coullier’s Mont Blanc, the young director’s second short film to screen in Cannes, is the story of a last wish and the lingering hostility between father and son. As they travel back from a thwarted journey to make the father’s wish come true, all the son’s emotions come to the surface.

Text: Ian Mundell

montblancmagInspiration for the Cannes Shorts competition selected film came from the director's own life, although he is quick to point out that he has a great relationship with his own father. But there was a time in his teens when things were not so smooth, and he wondered how it would be if that feeling had endured. ' What if you hate the man who is your father, for the rest of your life?'
His way into the story was to imagine the father making a dying wish, asking to be taken back to a place of better family memories.

'As a son, I don't think you could say no. You would have to do it. But that doesn't make everything alright.'

Initially conceived as a road trip to the Alps, Coulier found that the story only came alive after father and son had reached the mountains. 'Once they arrive at Mont Blanc, or rather at the wrong place, you start to wonder what will happen next, when they drive back,' he says. This is when the characters' relationship is stripped bare. 'Not a lot is said, but in that way many things are said. In that moment, the fact that they don't talk is what is interesting'.

montblancmag02From the outset, Coulier had Wim Willaert in mind for the role of the son, having worked with the actor on his student shorts Iceland and Paroles. 'I love the way he acts. I really believe his performances.' Finding someone to play the father was harder, since he did not want to cast a well-known face. 'I always have a problem when I see the actor rather than the character,' he explains. So he looked for people with the right presence, regardless of their acting experience. When he saw a picture of Jean-Pierre Lauwers, he knew this was the one. 'He looks so innocent, so likeable. He has an old, lived-in face… but on the other hand you never know what a person has done in his life.

'This ambiguity is important, and in the film Coulier is careful not to reveal exactly what has driven father and son apart. 'You don't need the back story. When you look in his eyes you see a good person, but you have the feeling that something has happened. You ask: why would you hate your father?'

De Wereldvrede

Shooting Mont Blanc took a week, travelling between locations in Austria, France and Belgium. 'It was also very interesting for us, with a little team, to experience their journey.'

That team included David Williamson, who has been director of photography on all of Coulier's films. 'David and I started in the same year at Sint-Lukas film school and we graduated in the same year. I've always done his photography and he's always done mine. In the first place, I love his images, but the other good thing is that we don't need to talk a lot on set. I can really give all my time to the actors rather than worry about on the technical side.'

montblancmag03This is Coulier's first professional production, supported by the VAF Wildcard award won for Iceland. He was coached in the project by Felix van Groeningen (The Misfortunates, The Broken Circle Breakdown) and the film was produced by Dirk Impens of Menuet. 'Mont Blanc's selection at Cannes is not only beautiful for me, but it's also a big endorsement for the Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF),' Coulier says. 'It proves that the VAF Wildcards work and that we are really on the right track in Flanders.' In fact it’s not his first Cannes selection. Coulier’s 2010 student short, Iceland, was shown in the Cinéfondation competition.

The future already looks busy for the young director. He has recently set up his own production company, De Wereldvrede (The World Peace) with actor Gilles De Schryver, best known internationally for Come As You Are. His first project will be to produce and direct Bevergem, a nine-episode Tv series for Belgian public Tv. 'It's a comedy. I describe it as a mix between Breaking Bad and Lilyhammer.'

Meanwhile he is working on his first feature film, Cargo, about a family fishing business that turns bad in harsh economic times. 'It's the story of three brothers who are extremely different, trying to work towards the same goal, but who really fuck it up.' Coulier is collaborating on the script with Tom Dupont, co-writer of Peter Monsaert's Offline. He hopes to cast Willaert and Sam Louwyck as two of the brothers.

Published on Friday 10 May 2013

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