To say we didn’t enjoy the new opus in the Luc Besson franchise is an understatement. But we discussed it with its director, Vaud native Barthélemy Grossman.
The project was fascinating: a terrifying production set in the universe of Arthur and the Minimoys, Luc Besson’s trilogy for children. Either a big overall gap between the original work and this spin-off “Arthur curse” which shows a group of teenagers, true admirers of the saga, who find the house used for the shooting and decide to spend the night… before everything turns into a “Scream” or “Halloween” style slasher.
Little icing on the cake, it is a Swiss, the Vaudois Barthélemy Grossman, who is responsible for this story conceived by Luc Besson. Problem: The concept, which was flawed from the start, is aimed neither at fans of the first trilogy nor at horror film fans. And the feature mainly takes on the semblance of a stratospheric Nanar as it displays its shortcomings: poorly made, poorly acted, abusing other-time staging effects, and burdened by a desperately primarily self-centered “meta” side effect.
Still, since we were interested in the filmmaker’s journey, we decided to get straight to the point, admit our incomprehension and ask him to talk about it. Friendly. Engine!
Your first film “13 m2” was made in 2007. What happened between this and your second “Arthur, curse”?
After “13 m2” I developed many projects that failed at different stages of production. In particular, I had to shoot a thriller with Harvey Keitel and Mads Mikkelsen in Switzerland called Clean Out. I had made all the preparations with Keitel, but the financing fell through at the last moment. I moved on to another film that I was supposed to have Vilmos Zsigmond as cinematographer (note: Oscar-winning cinematographer for Rencontre du 3e type, by Steven Spielberg), but the lead actress left the project and it all fell apart. I directed the second season of the animated series “Lascars”, filmed a series in Los Angeles, this time fiction, “Exposed”… And during all this time one person has always watched me benevolently from a distance: Luc Besson. We met shortly after my first film and since then he has always been there for me, giving me advice and support.
He also entrusted you with the production of two episodes of his series No Limits for TF1… How did that first meeting go?
I had been shortlisted for the Césars for 13m2, I needed a sponsor and I had looked for him in Los Angeles and told him ‘The only sponsor I want is you’. We talked a lot and stayed in touch. He’s someone I’ve always admired, especially for his career. People who, like him, believe in a vision and start from scratch to make their dreams come true have always fascinated me! Like Chaplin, Bill Gates, Mike Tyson or Orson Welles… When I was 15, Besson was a role model for me.
What memories do you have of those years?
I spent my childhood between Aubonne and Lausanne: near Saint-Prex, Morges… I quit my studies at 15 to make films. I went to Paris to follow the Cours Florent. I wanted to be an actor first. And when I realized that what I wanted most was to tell stories, to tackle projects instead of waiting on the phone, I started making short films. Write them, then execute them.
So how did you end up taking control of Arthur, Curse?
During the covid when everything was stopped Luc called me to offer me his idea which I loved. In my mind I am a child. I was a fan of the first film, but I totally identified with the main character there, someone who has taken refuge in a kind of protective bubble – his passion for this Arthur and the Minimoys film – and who now has to step out for himself to face the real world. At his age, I was a little bit like that: when I went to school and knew that I would be teased, I pictured myself next to Stallone, Bruce Lee or Schwarzenegger because I was a fan of their films. And that gave me courage. The hero there does the same with his characters. Who cares if it’s Arthurs, that’s the metaphor that appealed to me.
What leeway did you have in adapting this script from Luc Besson?
Luc is someone who trusts. From the moment he chooses you, he’s open to working with you. Afterwards you have to be humble when dealing with a gentleman who has produced almost 100 films, shot 15… I learned a lot from him. And when he gives you advice, it’s not about ego, it’s about something that makes the plan better. Sometimes he would say to me, “There, maybe you could have done it like this. That would have been more efficient.” “Ah, I hadn’t thought of that…” I replied… “Bart, this is your second film, that’s normal”. That was the kind of conversation we had together…
What bothers me about your film is that I don’t believe for a second these teenagers who at 18 are still fans of Arthur and the Invisibles. Had you brought an ounce of second degree, a little insight, the pill might have passed. But there, from the first degree full pot…
I do not agree. There’s still a quirky side when the hero’s friends say to him, “Stop your bullshit: you’re 18 years old now. We’ll prepare one last surprise for you – the house used for the filming – and then you drop the case.” And later, when they watch the movie together, his friends say to him, ‘Haven’t we already seen this movie? I don’t remember…”. As they see it for the 50e sometimes… I find it cute. Just like the scene where the girl is also trying to tell him that he has to move on and she is trying to kiss him… I totally recognize myself in that situation. I was like him at his age.
But here too: we are dealing with teenagers who are left to their own devices and should let their sentimental and sexual emotions run free. However, we have the impression that everything is taboo here. Your characters don’t even dare to talk about sexuality, they refer to it when they talk about “that”… It’s hard to swallow, teenagers who are so far removed from reality.
Once again, I was that boy oblivious to the world around me, especially in relation to sexuality. But it’s a vision of things that I wanted that way, with teenagers that are a little magnified: nice, not vulgar, who don’t smoke and adherents of a more beautiful and gentle sexuality. I wasn’t interested in showing them how to watch porn on their phone.
Why bring up such clichéd characters afterwards: the nerd of the band who inevitably wears glasses, the black man from the suburbs and his mistakes in French…
I see it more as references. I remember reading the script thinking about the ‘Goonies’, ‘Super 8’, the first ‘It’, the TV movie of the 90’s…movies where the friends’ bands were very close, very distinct. After that, the black, Arabic or white side, I make no difference. The female lead, for example, wasn’t written for an interracial woman. This black could have been white or Chinese.
How much freedom did you have in casting?
Ironically for this female lead, played by Thalia Besson, your producer and screenwriter’s daughter?
Exactly. I spent 3 months looking for all the actors. I’ve done all sorts of agencies, including models. So they’re young and it gets harder and harder to get anything out of them as they get older, but I’m very proud of them. And for Thalia, I just didn’t dare to talk to Luc about it. I was actually afraid of that kind of criticism. And then he gave me carte blanche as far as the rest goes.
But was Thalia Besson an actress? We feel she was chosen for her resemblance to Zendaya rather than her talent as an actress…
For reference, I see more Pocahontas in it. She is the princess of the film. Otherwise, yes, she took acting classes, but she is more interested in creation, passionate about fashion. And at some point I said to him: “I can’t see the film without you, you have to trust me”. We cast her, she walked in, smiled and the whole room lit up. She had real energy on set and this choice is one of the things I’m most proud of.
We are talking about a budget of 3 million euros. Was it comfortable for a movie like this?
Very! I filmed “13 m2” with 30,000 euros. I was able to do my blockbuster there! But comfort on set isn’t just a question of money. It is also the team that we gather around us. When you find yourself with people you know who are passionate and trust, you do great things. I also largely took care of my “13 m2” team: my cameraman, my equipment… It shows how free I was.
With that “comfortable” budget, couldn’t you have fine-tuned this digital shot of the arm covered in completely frozen bees we see through a window? Don’t you think it’s a bit off?
No way. Otherwise he wouldn’t be in the film.
I’m also having trouble understanding who the film is ultimately aimed at… Definitely not children, the audience of the first Arthur, given its horrifying aspect. At the same time, the gore side seems so sanitized that horror movie fans might not find what they’re looking for…
I didn’t want to make blood for blood’s sake. If you step on a wolf trap, here it is: the film shows what happens. The story asked for nothing more. This is followed by assembly work. To omit also means to say. And what we don’t show opens the viewer’s imagination. There we are in a spin-off, a derivative, and when Luc entrusted me with the franchise, he told me to do whatever I wanted with it! And that’s what I did, without restrictions.
#grilled #director #Arthur #curse