It is an understatement to say that the new opus of the franchise of Luc Besson did not please us. But we discussed it cards on the table with its director, the Vaudois Barthélemy Grossman.
The project was intriguing: a horrific production set in the universe of “Arthur and the Minimoys”, the trilogy directed by Luc Besson for children. Either a large total gap between the original work and this spin-off, “Arthur, curse”, showing a group of teenagers, true worshipers of the saga, who find the house that was used for the filming and decide to spend the night… before everything turns into “Scream” or “Halloween” style slasher.
Little icing on the cake, it is a Swiss, the Vaudois Barthélemy Grossman, who is in charge of this story imagined by Luc Besson. Problem: the concept, flawed from the start, is aimed neither at fans of the initial trilogy, nor at horror movie aficionados. And the feature film takes on above all the appearance of a stratospheric nanar as it unfolds its shortcomings: badly done, badly acted, abusing staging effects from another age and weighed down by a desperately primary egocentric “meta” side degree.
So since the filmmaker’s journey interested us nevertheless, we chose to go straight to it, to confess our incomprehension to him and to ask him to discuss it. Kindly. Engine!
Your first film, “13 m2”, dates from 2007. What happened between this one and “Arthur, curse”, your second?
After “13 m2”, I developed a lot of projects that fell through at different stages of production. In particular, I had to shoot a thriller in Switzerland with Harvey Keitel and Mads Mikkelsen, “Clean Out”. I had done all the preparation with Keitel but the funding fell through at the last moment. I continued with another film, where I was to have Vilmos Zsigmond as cinematographer (note: Oscar-winning cinematographer for “Rencontre du 3e type”, by Steven Spielberg), but the main actress left the project and everything fell apart. I directed the second season of the animated series “Lascars”, shot a series in Los Angeles, this time of fiction, “Exposed”… And during all this time, a person always observed me from afar, with benevolence: Luc Besson. We met shortly after my first film and since then he has always been there for me, giving me advice and supporting me.
He also entrusted you with the production of two episodes of his series for TF1, “No Limits”… How did this first meeting go?
I had been shortlisted for the Césars for “13 m2”, I needed a sponsor and I had gone to find him in Los Angeles, telling him: “The only sponsor I want is you”. We talked a lot, and we stayed in touch. He is someone I have always admired, especially for his career. People who, like him, believe in a vision and start from scratch to achieve their dreams 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 do you remember of those years?
I spent my childhood between Aubonne and Lausanne: near Saint-Prex, Morges… When I was 15, I stopped my studies to make films. I went to Paris to follow the Cours Florent. I first wanted to be an actor. And when I understood that I wanted above all to tell stories, to undertake projects rather than to wait by the telephone, I started to produce short films. To write them, then to carry them out.
How did you end up in control of “Arthur, Curse” then?
During the Covid, when everything was stopped, Luc called me to offer me his idea, which I loved. In my head, I am a child. I was already a fan of the first film, but there I totally identified with the main character, someone who has taken refuge in a kind of protective bubble – his passion for this film, “Arthur and the Minimoys” -, and who must now step out of it to face the real world. At his age, I was a bit the same: when I went to school and I knew I was going to be heckled, I imagined myself alongside Stallone, Bruce Lee or Schwarzenegger, because I was fan of their films. And that gave me courage. The hero, there, does the same thing with his figurines. Who cares if it’s Arthur’s, that’s the metaphor that appealed to me.
What room for maneuver did you have in adapting this screenplay by Luc Besson?
Luc is someone who trusts. From the moment he chooses you, he is open to collaboration. Afterwards, you have to be humble when you’re dealing with a gentleman who has produced nearly 100 films, directed 15… I learned a lot from him. And when he gives you advice, it’s not about ego, it’s something that actually makes the plan better. He would sometimes say to me: “There, perhaps you could have done it that way. It would have been more efficient.” “Ah, I hadn’t thought of that…”, I replied… “Bart, it’s your second film, it’s normal”. That’s the kind of conversation we had together…
My concern with your film is that I don’t believe for a second these teenagers who, at 18, are still fans of “Arthur and the Invisibles”. You would have brought an ounce of the second degree, a little perspective, the pill would probably have passed. But there, from the first degree full pot…
I do not agree. There is still a quirky side when the hero’s friends tell him: “Stop your bullshit: you are now 18 years old. We’ll prepare one last surprise for you – the house that was used for the filming – and then you drop the case”. And later, when they watch the film together, his friends tell him: “Haven’t we seen this film already? I do not remember…”. As they watch it for the 50e times… I find it cute. Just like the scene where the girl also tries to tell him that he has to move on and that she tries to kiss him… I totally recognize myself in this situation. I was like him at his age.
But there again: we are faced with teenagers left to their own devices, who should give free rein to their sentimental, even sexual, emotions. 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 so far removed from reality.
Once again, I was that boy who didn’t realize the world around him, particularly with regard to sexuality. But it’s a vision of things that I wanted in this way, with teenagers that are a little magnified: nice, not vulgar, who don’t smoke and followers of a rather beautiful and gentle sexuality. I wasn’t interested in showing them watching porn on their phone.
Afterwards, why put forward such clichéd characters: the nerd of the band who inevitably wears glasses, the black man from the suburbs and his faults in French…
I see it more as references. When reading the script, I remember thinking of the “Goonies”, “Super 8”, the first “It”, the TV movie of the 90s… Films where the bands of friends were very close-knit, very marked. Afterwards, the black, Arab or white side, I don’t make the difference. The main female role, for example, was not written for a mixed-race woman. This black man could have been white or Chinese.
How much freedom did you have for the casting?
Including, precisely, for this female lead role, played by Thalia Besson, daughter of your producer and screenwriter?
Exactly. I spent 3 months looking for all the actors. I did all possible agencies, including models. So they’re young, and at that age it’s always more difficult to get things out of them, but I’m very proud of them. And for Thalia, I just didn’t dare talk to Luc about it. I was indeed afraid of this type of criticism. And then he gave me carte blanche, as for the rest.
But was Thalia Besson an actress? We rather have the impression that she was chosen for her resemblance to Zendaya, than for her talents as an actress…
For reference, I rather see Pocahontas in it. She’s the princess of the movie. Otherwise, yes, she took acting lessons but she is more into creation, passionate about fashion. And at one 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. On set, she had real energy and that choice is one of the things I’m most proud of on the film.
We are talking about a budget of 3 million euros. Was it comfortable for a movie like that?
Very! I shot “13 m2” with 30,000 euros. There, I was able to make my blockbuster! But comfort on set isn’t just about the money. It is also the team that we gather around us. When you find yourself with people you know, who are passionate and whom you trust, that’s where you do great things. I also largely took over my “13 m2” team: my cinematographer, my appliances… This shows how free I was.
With this “comfortable” budget, couldn’t you have fine-tuned this digital shot of the arm covered with completely frozen bees, which we see passing through a window? Don’t you find it a bit off?
No way. Otherwise he wouldn’t be in the movie.
I also have trouble understanding who the film is ultimately aimed at… Clearly not children, the audience of the first “Arthurs”, given its horrific aspect. At the same time, the gore side seems so sanitized that horror movie fans may not find what they’re looking for…
I didn’t want to do gore for gore’s sake. When you step on a wolf trap, here it is: the film shows what happens. The story didn’t ask for much more. Afterwards, there is assembly work. To omit is also to tell. 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 with it what I wanted! And that’s what I did, without any restrictions.
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