Eldorado: Interview with Director Bouli Lanners

Cannes Film Fest 2008–Bouli Lanners' EDLDORADO centers on Yvan, a fortysomething quick-tempered dealer in vintage cars, who catches young Elie burgling him. Instead of beating him up, he becomes strangely attached to him and agrees to drive him home to his parents in his old Chevrolet. So begins the bizarre journey of two misfits through a region that is as spectacular as it is crazy.

STARTING POINT The idea for the film came from a true story: one night I came home and caught two burglars in the act. One was hidden under my bed, the other under my desk! It was an unlikely situation; three guys who were scared and a long night spent talking. Based on that unforgettable event, I constructed and invented a story in which the anecdotes are transformed, fleshed out and end up coming together. The adventure between Yvan and Elie is true fiction, mixing together things from real life and moments of pure invention.

When I was writing, it never occurred to me to play the role of Yvan. My producer, Jacques-Henri Bronckart, suggested it and ended up convincing me. It is true that the character I had written was a lot like me. I ended up in front of and behind the camera, a crazy experience that was made possible by my cast and crew.But it wasnt always easy for me to judge the quality of the rushes when I was constantly seeing myself on screen, in shorts or my underwear, in the middle of a river. It taught me a lot about humility.


I wanted to move beyond an image of Belgium as a sad, grey place to something more cheerful. I opted for a very colorful film full of light shot in 35mm in Wallon landscapes that evoke the Far West or Montana more than social realism. Jean-Paul De Zaeytijd, the cinematographer, did a fantastic job and when you watch the film, it makes you think of an old, worn out cowboy.


Yvan and Elie are two loners. They wander aimlessly through their lives. But they are both nostalgic about lost relationships, which is what leads them to undertake this journey. Both are trying to find the pieces of a puzzle that they want to put back together. But it is too late.


When I was a kid, every weekend, we would do travel from La Calamine to Bastogne and back to see my grandparents. I would press my nose up against the window watching the landscape go by. The car was like a cocoon and I loved it. Even now, I am meditative. If the landscape streams by when Im just sitting there, I still love it. The sideways track shot is the best invention on earth. So I always have to put a t least one of them in my films. I cant help myself.


This is one of the most important things for me. I can drive for days or even weeks to find one. When Ive found it, I keep going back to it. I dissect it, I inspect it closely and I rewrite the scene based on what it inspires in me. Philippe Groff, the production manager and I went for long drives to Belgiums nooks, crannies and dead-ends. We found three epicenters that we could use as bases so the whole shoot took place over a distance of less than one hundred and fifty kilometers.


Fabrice Adde reminded me of someone. Straight off, I knew he was the character I was looking for. He had that fragility, that capacity for lies and at the same time a gentleness. Discovering and working with an actor that nobody knows yet is like finding a little treasure. It makes me really happy. It is the same for the other roles in the film. They bring great richness to this very unlikely cast.


I mix the infinitely sad with infinitely stupid situations to get a laugh. In this way, I tried to give depth, humanity and a way in to themes that are close to my heartI mixed the truly sad and the truly dumb. Even though my dietician tells me to avoid it, I like sweet and sour more than anything.


From the writing stage to editing, I work with music. It is an integral part of the film. I wanted a soundtrack that was tailor-made. I was lucky someone introduced me to Renaud Mayeur whose warm, rugged riffs were exactly like what I had been listening to all through the writing process. An Pierle and Koen Gisen composed a piece of petrifying beauty. My friend Stefan Liberski gave me his little creation like youd buy someone a drink in a bar. And to top it off, we bought the rights to three songs that were really important to me: The Milkshakes from my teen years, Jesse Sykes. It adds up to the powerful, spellbinding soundtrack that I dreamt of from the outset.