Interview: Gente de bien dir. Franco Lolli at Gent Film Festival

by March 27, 2015

Franco Lolli films with love and you can feel this in every little detail of his feature debut Gente De Bien which won the Grand Prize at Film Fest Gent and premiered at Cannes. In Gent we had the chance to talk with the most promising up-and-coming director of Colombia.

– You live in France now but still opted to film in Bogota, Colombia. Why did you come back to your home country to shoot and did your improved film knowledge give you inspiration to see your story in a different way?

Lolli: Actually, the inspiration doesn’t come from other films; it comes from real life, from what I saw in Colombia and what I felt when I was young, growing up there. Then, of course I saw other films that helped me to go this way and that way. So, Bogota felt close to me. I like to film people and places that I know, that I can understand. For instance when I go to film in Arbelaez, a little town near to Bogota, a lot of my friends have houses there and I know the area. You don’t feel like a tourist, you have to feel what is going on there, on these the streets. You film differently when you love a place, you film it with love. It’s like this for me in Bogota and Arbelaez.

– You won several prizes for your shorts and participated in a Cannes writing residency, how high was the pressure to make Gente De Bien?

Lolli: After I won several prices for my first short ‘Como todo el mundo’ (Including the Grand Prix at Clermont-Ferrand in 2008) the pressure to deliver was always high. The Cannes residency really helped a lot in that matter because it kind of puts a label on you. You meet a lot of fellow directors and you learn so much about production because you can actually see how those 5 other directors work on their film. Moreover, being nominated for the Cannes Critics Week was also very important because I want the film to exist socially and Cannes is still the best platform to get that done.

– How difficult was it to depict the rich family of Maria Isabel not as the ‘bad guys’ in the film, to move away from that black and white approach they love to use in Hollywood?

Lolli: I think it’s very important for me that I love my characters, so I don’t treat them like castles. I don’t like films where the directors put their selves above their characters. I want to keep things real. I come from a relatively rich area of Colombia, so I know these people as friends and family and then you certainly don’t depict them as characters without depth. Even my mother is in one scene of the rich family, so didn’t want to be dishonest to my characters. You know all people can be assholes sometimes, there’s really no division between rich are bad and poor are good. So, I wanted to show something that really portrayed the life there in all its honesty.

– Still, the scene where the kids all tell where they’re going on vacation shows how absurd the difference between rich and poor children can get. Can you explain this situation more elaborately?

Lolli: Nothing in life is absolute. If you’re used to something big as going on vacation to Australia, you find it something naturally. For instance, I came from a family who had money for a lot of things but still I felt poor as a child because my friends even had much more. How you feel is the reality. The scene you referred to wasn’t initially written that way. Two of the actresses didn’t want to play this scene, so I only met the actors who would replace them the day of the shooting. I just put them on the bed and said “talk about your vacation”. And one of the guys was actually going to Australia, so I told him to tell the story again and he was telling the story like you can see it in the film. For me this was almost addressing it too much, I would have never written it this way but it was the reality.

– Do you consider Gente De Bien as a moral tale?

Lolli: I guess it’s like a Hans Christian Anderson tale. It draws a lot of comparisons to the one for him which is called ‘The Emperor New Clothes’. Eric is like the boy who is willing to tell the Emperor that he’s naked and the other people are too afraid to say it because else they would be considered as undignified. I can’t really pinpoint what my film says actually but it try to explain something about society and how we behave. I’m not a religious person as such but the film comes from a spiritual strong relationship with some kind of god.

Still, for me, the film is mostly about family and the difficulty of accepting your own family and belonging to one. It’s a hard film in that way because Eric is abandoned four times in the film: before the film starts he’s abandoned by his father, then by his mother, after that again by his father and in the end by his surrogate mother Maria Isabel. The social issues surrounding Eric are more like a background to the story; but most of the audiences don’t see it like that.

– You made some interesting music choses in the film; can you tell us something more about how you select your music?

Lolli: The music in the dancing scene is Reggaeton which comes from Puerto Rico, where the whole brand of music originated. In Colombian parties you have a lot of Reggaeton music and Brayan actually wants to be a Reggaeton singer. In fact, he chose the Reggaeton song, the one from Reykon, a Colombian artist. And for the rest of the music I really have to love it if I want to put it in the story because I don’t want too much music in my films. For instance, in the scene where Brayan and Maria Isabel were driving on the horses through the city, I initially didn’t choose the song My Way myself. My second editor played it for me because the scene wasn’t totally working right and she knew I love this song because in film school I made a short called My Way. It felt exactly like what the scene needed. It was amazing but in the beginning I thought this was going to be way too expensive for our production, yet in the end I called my French producer and said that I really needed to have this song in the film and he could arrange it. I’m glad I did it; it’s the best part of the film for me.

– Did you work with a lot of non-professional actors in your cast?

Lolli: Every actor comes from the same kind of background they have in the film. I’m very consequent with these social precisions.  Else, the film feels fake, especially in Colombia where the accent tells actually where you come from. For instance in Belgium, if you would talk to me, I could come from almost any kind of background but in Colombia it would tell. So, if you get an actor from the richer areas and you let him play a poor kid, everybody is going to notice it in the film; it will feel like the person is out of place. For me it’s very important to depict people as they are and to give them the possibility to speak. Actually, it plays out very well for me, because I don’t work with written dialogue and therefore they know how they should speak and things don’t get mixed up. When I need a veterinarian, I will cast a real veterinarian because they handle things like one, they know how to behave.

– Can you see yourself in the protagonist?

Lolli: Yes, I wrote a character that was completely me but then Brayan arrived and he changed it a bit. Still, I identified a lot with this kid. In my childhood I was angry most of the time and also had the social intelligence that Eric puts on the screen. I said to any adult what I really thought; I was very cheeky like Eric. It’s very interesting for me because in some screenings people really like Eric and in other screenings people are annoyed by him and even think he deserves a beating for his behavior.

So if you cast actors in roles they are in real life, how was it to work with Brayan?

Lolli: [Laughs] It was really something working with Brayan on the set. He’s absolutely intelligent and acting the way I wanted him to act. But at some point the kid was just outsmarting us. He was manipulating the crew and trying to get what he wants. I genuinely love Brayan, but during some weeks of the shooting I could easily hate him but in the end that was because there was so much pressure on him, he knew the film really depended a lot on him.

By Matthias Van Hijfte