"Eldorado": Under Worn-out Golden Wallonian Skies By Dana Linssen

in 61st Cannes Film Festival

by Dana Linssen

The Eldorado of Bouli Lanners lies not hidden in the lush greenery of a South-American jungle. It is to be found under the wide horizons of the Wallonian skies in Belgium. But still, hidden it is, only to emerge under the golden sunsets and sunrises of the characteristic glow of the Northern hemisphere.

In his second feature film (following 2005’s equally impressive Ultranova) director and actor (after a minor part in the kindred-spirited art house hit Aaltra he now takes the male lead) Bouli Lanners hits the road again in the strangely graceful desolation of the Wallonian landscape.

Originally self-taught as a painter, Lanners and his director of photography Jean-Paul De Zaetijd literally tint the celluloid in every possible shade of worn-out gold. Thus the filmmakers push their portrayal of Belgium — though similarly sad-absurd as in the grayish blue of Ultranova, in which they give you an idea about the slow and poisonous Americanization of the European landscape — a little further.

The genesis of Eldorado stems from a true story. Upon coming home one night the director caught two thieves in the act. One of them was hiding under his bed, the other one under his desk. And all three of them were scared shitless. Just like his character in the film he could not get them out of his house, nor could he get to his phone to call the police. From that bizarre status quo a night of talking arose. The events in the film that develop from there are pure invention, underlined the director in Cannes.

Protagonists Yvan (Lanners) and Elie (Fabrice Adde) belong to the contingent of beautiful anti-heroical losers that, to the great delight of audiences, inhabit European cinema. For whatever feeling of remorse, the goodness of his heart, the inability to act (all of this to be subtly revealed during the course of the events) Yvan decides to give burglar Elie a swing on the road and bring him home.

Anyone who thought the road movie to be an exclusively American genre, tied to the American dream and the final frontier, should see Eldorado to realize how, crammed between borders of old European countries, the Belgian road movie is essentially a voyage within. The journey of Ivan and Elie leads from nowhere to nowhere, through the claustrophobic woods of the Ardennes, along deserted camp sites (where only a nude Alain Delon is to be found) and across the B-routes, the old smugglers trails, the short cuts to no cuts at all.

Two men and the road — it is as simple as that. All the absurdities that give the film its melancholic light-heartedness arise from that. As does the sincere humane portrayal of these down and out guys. And for Bouli Lanners who tries to live his life as if he were in his own road movie, thinking, writing, scouting locations while driving along, the car is a time capsule to another world. Not a world so far away, but the one that unrolling beside the car window, this little fake film frame to the world. “I could make no films without at least one sideways tracking shot”, he assured in an interview on the occasion of Ultranova. It reveals the world less seen. Thus his filmmaking goes back to the explorers that discover the world through their lens as well.

Lanners himself describes the palette of Eldorado as a faded ‘Western’. But the gold that shimmers is as much the gold of the “Belge Noire”, named after the pure and dark Belgian chocolate that lends its name to a new wave of Belgian and Wallonian filmmakers.

Besides Lanners, the informal movement includes the casual company of Aaltra-directors Gustave De Kervern and Benoît Delépine; of actor/director Benoît Poelvoorde (Man Bites Dog, C’est arrivé près de chez vous, 1992); of Fabrice Du Welz (The Ordeal, Calvaire, 2004) and Olivier Smolders (Black Night, Nuit noire, 2005). Whether it is tragic-comedy with an Aki Kaurismäkian-touch, such as Aaltra, the full-blooded Ardennes-horror of The Ordeal or the used future magic realism of Black Night, each and every one of these filmmakers engages himself with the notion of loss and decay, with the economic deforestation that has eroded their sense of cultural pride and identity. Thus the affinity with the far more severe style of filmmaking of the Dardennes is never far away: they all share the same concern about the European waste land, whether it is social realism or the burlesque defining their tone.