The wait is over: The Loft opens in cinemas this month

Summary

The American remake of the Flemish blockbuster Loft opens the Ghent Film Festival next week, and director Erik Van Looy is breathing a sigh of relief

Focus on France at Ghent fest

“It’s got nothing to do with the movie.” These are the first words out of the mouth of Erik Van Looy to every journalist’s question regarding his movie The Loft.

Van Looy made the film three years ago, the English-language remake of his 2008 thriller Loft, which broke Belgian box office records. The American version, filmed partly in New Orleans and partly in a Flemish studio, has never been released in cinemas.

Until now. The movie is opening the Ghent Film Festival on 14 October and opens across Belgium the following day. The long (long, long)-awaited US opening date is 15 January.

So what took so long?

“All I can say is what the American producer kept telling me,” answers Van Looy (pictured). “He said, ‘Remember Erik, it’s not about the movie, it’s about politics’.”

The American studio system can be “almost enough to make you lose hope,” the Flemish director admits. “But then you see the results of the test screenings, and you know it was never about the movie. One day I might write a book about all the things that happened behind the scenes, but I’m so happy it’s opening the Ghent Film Festival and that it’s being released that I’m not interested anymore in talking about what went wrong.”

Van Looy, 52, is a celebrity Flemings love to love. Aside from writing or directing solid, crowd pleasing thrillers (De zaak Alzheimer, Dossier K), he is the host of one of the region’s most popular TV shows, De slimste mens ter wereld (The Smartest Person in the World). He is pleasant and affable, both on screen and off.

American optimism

In keeping with his character, he applies that famous American optimism to the Loft situation, noting that the film got a great opening month (January) stateside and that’s it’s opening nationwide, rather than in a limited release.

“Unless you’re Spiderman, you have to fight for wide release,” he says. “And that’s what we did. It took us longer than expected, but … we have a better date. And in the meantime, Matthias is an international star.”

If Ridley Scott has to deal with that kind of thing, what are they going to do to Erik Van Looy?

- Director Erik Van Looy

He’s talking, of course, about Matthias Schoenaerts, who reprises his role of bad boy Philip in the movie about five friends who acquire a secret loft apartment to give them a private place to cheat on their wives. James Marsden of X-Men fame (he was Cyclops) plays Philip’s brother Chris, the moral compass of the group, and Karl Urban (“Bones” McCoy in the latest Star Trek films) portrays the group’s slick ringleader, Vincent.

Rounding out the cast are Wentworth Miller (Prison Break) as the nervous Luke and Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family) as the clownish Marty.

“It was really good to have a Belgian ensemble,” continues Van Looy, referring to the presence of Schoenaerts in the American production, as well as director of photography Nicolas Karakatsanis and script supervisor Ann Van Aken. “Those actors didn’t know me, which can always be a problem, especially on an American movie set where the actors tend to want to be the boss. You hear these stories, like the one on the set of Robin Hood where Russell Crowe kept 75-year-old Ridley Scott, one of the world’s biggest directors, waiting for an hour so that he could see the end of a hockey match on TV. So if you’re Ridley Scott, and you have to deal with that kind of thing, what are they going to do to Erik Van Looy from Borgerhout?”

Long story short, they went easy on him, with Schoenaerts helping pave the way. “He had played the role before, so he just started acting; he was into the character immediately. And they said, this guy is brilliant. They saw immediately that he had a head start. They really had to focus to be on the same level. So Matthias was not only a friend on the set, he not only spoke my language, but creatively, he was an ally.”

The Brussels jungle

And although the American actors didn’t know him, says Van Looy, they did know his movie. “They saw it, and they liked it. And they saw the performances, and they knew these characters could lead to good performances. So there was a confidence there.”

Making the same movie makes the transition to shooting in another country smoother, but there are still cultural differences, both expected and less so. “American actors ask a lot of questions,” Van Looy says. “They ask more questions than Belgian actors. They are very analytical, and they want to analyse their character – why does he do this, where does he come from, where is he going to?” Van Looy smiles. “Sometimes they overanalyse.”

Every assistant has an assistant has an assistant

- Erik Van Looy

Though Van Looy enjoyed overanalysing the characters with them, “I don’t love doing that on set because there are like 150 people standing around waiting for you.”

What are all those people doing? “Every assistant has an assistant has an assistant,” he says. “But basically, you’re directing the same scene, so I felt like I was making the same movie. There are more trucks, more people, but the work gets done the same way.”

And half of the film, in any case, was shot on home turf, in a studio in Vilvoorde. All the scenes outside the loft apartment were shot in the US, but the loft set was built here. “Sometimes when they’re in the loft, they walk out on the terrace,” relates Van Looy. “On the terrace, it’s New Orleans, back inside, it’s Vilvoorde. It’s movie magic!”

The four American actors, he said, were surprisingly content with their crew of 35 in Flanders. “I think they were a bit scared in the beginning, where they were ending up,” Van Looy says with a grin. “‘Is there internet in Brussels?’ they asked. Like it was going to be the jungle. But after a few days, they were like, man, this is really efficient.”

Van Looy takes his time between films; taking both Loft films into account, this is his fifth feature (“but only my third good one”). His next shoots in early 2016. Called The Prime Minister, it’s about a Belgian prime minister, played by go-to leading man Koen De Bouw, who gets kidnapped by terrorists “and begins to fight back,” says Van Looy. “I waited and waited, and now Koen De Bouw is old enough to make a convincing prime minister. He’s still a bit too handsome, but we can mess him up a little.”

At the start of the interview, I didn’t know what to expect from Van Looy. Is he the loveable host from De slimste mens? Or the brooding sort you expect to make somewhat gruesome thrillers? “I can laugh my head off and be melancholy an hour later,” he admits. “That’s life. It’s a balancing act. I guess I’m just your very average schizophrenic Belgian.”

The Loft opens the Ghent Film Festival on 14 October

Photo by Jesse Willems/BELGA

Ghent’s film fest: focus on France

France might seem like a too-easy choice for the country focus at this year’s Ghent Film Festival – an historical world leader in cinema, and right next door. But it’s just that “historical” part that appealed to programmers.

French cinema has lost its lustre with audiences over the last couple of decades, overtaken by more exotic options from the burgeoning Eastern European and Asian industries. So the festival would like to bring us back around by showing us many of France’s recent gems, without ignoring its glorious past.

You’ll find options aplenty to brush up on your français, from the Luis Buñel classic Belle de jour to the latest from François Ozon. Most of the selection is new work: recommended are the Cannes jury award-winner Adieu au langage (Goodbye to Language, pictured above) by the 83-year-old Jean-Luc Godard, which wraps up past and present all in one package (in 3D!), and the terribly cool Eden by Mia Hansen-Love (Father of My Children), which follows 18 years in the life of a 1990s Parisian DJ, whose only true love is a house beat.

But there are about 25 countries represented, don’t forget. The Kindergarten Teacher from Israel’s Nadav Lapid (Policeman), for example, is a must-see, the story of a young teacher’s obsession with a poetry-spouting prodigy. Also put the award-winning Leviathan by Russian director Andrezy Zvyagintsev (Elena) on your list: His transplanting of the “Book of Job” to a small Russian town is beautifully epic and achingly tragic.

Flemish cinema also abounds, with the premiere of Pier Van Hees’ Waste Land, starring Jérémie Renier as a volatile Brussels police officer caught up in a world of mysterious criminal masterminds, enchanting foreigners and the spirits of the Congo. Antwerp-based Teodora Ana Mihai, meanwhile, presents her award-winning documentary Waiting For August, a poignant look at the lives of a family of seven children on their own in Romania.

An evening with Bret Easton Ellis

It might seem odd to have a writer at the head of your film festival jury, but the Ghent Film Festival chose American author Bret Easton Ellis because (aside from the obvious star quality) his work is inherently filmable (Less Than Zero, The Rules of Attraction, American Psycho) and because the dude is a major cinephile.

So while he’s in Ghent, Ellis is also making a public appearance at Vooruit, where he will be interviewed by author and Knack journalist Roderik Six (the only author in Flanders with a name as cool as Bret Easton Ellis). His books will be on sale, and he’ll even sign one for you.

15 October 20.00, Vooruit, Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat 23, Ghent

Film Fest Ghent

Film Fest Ghent is Flanders’ largest international film festival. Each October, the festival draws acclaimed actors, directors and composers from around the world.
Soundtrack - Since 2001, the festival has hosted the World Soundtrack Awards, one of the world’s premier award ceremonies for film scores.
Student - Film Fest Ghent was originally launched as a festival for student films.
Happening - Each year, the festival hosts many side events, including concerts, exhibitions, discussion panels and parties.
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