Prefab Lives By Günter Jekubzik

in 43rd Gijón International Film Festival

by Günter Jekubzik

A slap in the face – that’s how it begins and ends. A slap in the face by an airbag inflating for no reason. Ultranova weaves its little stories around these two powerful metaphoric scenes. Ultranova received our critic’s prize as well as the Best Movie award from the International Jury at the 43rd Festival Internacional de Cine de Gijón.

Young Dimitri’s (Vincent Lecuyer) life doesn’t seem very spectacular. He and his colleagues are selling turnkey homes. Future turnkey homes, that is – for now there are only empty fields in the Wallonian countryside. Dimitri’s thin, grumpy colleague Verbrugghe (Vincent Berlorgey) nags constantly. Friendly Phil (Michaël Abiteboul) relieves the tension with jokes and an optimistic spirit. Then there are the two girls working in a furniture store: the quiet Cathy (Hélène de Reymaeker) who will later become Dimitri’s girlfriend, and Jeanne (Marie du Bled) Dimitri’s neighbour. Jeanne suffers from a sadness she cannot overcome, and so she spreads naïve invented stories about Dimitri and herself.

All these figures change slightly over the course of the movie. Even the sidekicks are treated with great care and concern. Scenes without any big events hold the key to complex personalities. What seems to be flat moves with a dreamlike structure. The photography, and the low beat house-music of Jarby McCoy, add to this effect. The turnkey houses and the furniture store work well as symbols of prefab lives, which don’t fit anybody, which can’t offer a home. The people in this movie seem lost and wandering – just like Dimitri in the opening scene, crawling out of a car and trying to orientate himself.

Ultranova by the Belgian filmmaker Bouli Lanners has already received the prize of the International Film-Theatre Association in Berlin last January. The 40-year-old Lanners was mostly known as an actor in many Belgian and French movies like Toto le héros (Jaco van Dormael, 1991), Les convoyeurs attend (Benoît Mariage, 1999) or Pauline et Paulette (Lieven Debrauwer, 1991). His artistic passions come from painting. He describes his way of working as “based on a feeling, rather than an idea. This feeling stayed with me throughout production. Instinct guided me, as when I paint.”

Lanners’ canvas is the Dardenne brothers’ country (Rosetta, L’enfant) around the town of Liège – or Lîdje for Flemish neighbours, or Lüttich for the nearby Germans. There are no borders anymore in this part of Europe to tell tristesse to stop. Le plat pays of French-speaking flaming Jacques Brel is just around the corner. Lanners says: “I show the Walloon region as I know it, not the tourist office view. And I prefer my version.” Just across the French border L’Humanité (directed by Bruno Dumont, Grand Prix winner at the Cannes Film Festival 1999) threw its lost souls into the same muddy background between forgotten fields and industries dead long ago.

Still Lanners cares: “My heroes are like little stars whose heat we only perceive when they implode, like supernovas that shine one last time before dying for good. I know they won’t die for good.” This hope for something beyond explains the title, Ultranova. A first feature film and a big bang to be remembered: we should pay attention to this rising director in the near future.