out of Five
Running time: 84
Superbly directed and beautifully shot, this is an emotionally engaging and powerfully evocative coming-of-age story with a trio of terrific performances from its three young stars.
What's it all about?
Co-written and directed by Belgian actor-turned-director Bouli Lanners, The Giants (Les géants, original title fans) stars Martin Nissen as Seth (15) and Zacharie Chasseriaud as Zak (13 and 3/4), two brothers who are spending the summer in their deceased grandfather's house in the countryside after their mother has seemingly abandoned them (though she still occasionally checks in via phone).
After managing to fix up their grandfather's car, they meet neighbourhood boy Dany (Paul Bartel), also 15, and quickly fall foul of his psychotically violent older brother Angel (Karim Lecloux). When the brothers run out of money and food, Dany persuades them to rent the house to local drug supplier Beef (Didier Toupy) for three months, but things don't quite go according to plan.
Nissen, Chasseriaud and Bartel are all excellent and the three boys have an easy, bantering chemistry together that is completely convincing and frequently very funny. There's also strong support from Karim Lecloux, who is utterly terrifying as the inappropriately named Angel, a truly monstrous creation whose shocking explosions of violence are sickening to watch.
The film is beautifully shot, courtesy of cinematographer Jean-Paul de Zaetijd, who makes terrific use of some gorgeous sun-dappled locations, both in Belgium and Luxembourg (the river scenes); there are also several striking images, such as the boys driving the car through a cornfield. In addition, there are some brilliantly directed moments of humour (such as when the boys experiment with peroxide) and the script is consistently intriguing, never quite spelling out exactly how the boys came to be in this situation, which lends the story a mysterious quality.
It's impossible to watch The Giants without being pleasurably reminded of classic children's literature, from Enid Blyton novels to the likes of Swallows and Amazons and Huckleberry Finn (the various river-based adventures make such links explicit). However, the film draws its power from these evocative moments being frequently slammed up against hard-hitting modern realities, such as poverty, drugs, homelessness and the threat of being beaten to death by a dead-eyed psychopath.
By turns shocking, funny and powerfully moving, The Giants is an impressively directed, superbly written and beautifully shot coming-of-age drama with terrific performances from its three young stars. Highly recommended.