The Giants (or Les geants) is one of those films that I look forward to every year at Film Festival: the surprises. The programme described this as a "social-realist Stand By Me" which, to be honest, made me cautious. But this French/Belgian film from director Bouli Lanners was a delicate joy.
Two brothers in their early teens, Zak and the older Danny, are dropped at their (deceased) grandfather's house for the summer as their mother takes off around the world on business. Being young boys they get up to a bit of mischief, taking off for a joyride in their granddad’s car. Coming across Seth on the way back, the three boys get high together and become fast friends. However, Seth is constantly menaced by his fucked-up and crazy older brother and it's not long before the paltry amount of money runs out for Zak and Danny. They're left with little to no options and end up with the short end of a deal to rent out their grandfather's house to a local drug dealer.
Intense fodder for heavyweight drama, yes? Well, yes and no. Lanners gifts the narrative a certain amount of delicacy and everything is shot through with an almost idyllic view that helps stop the film descending into arthouse drudgery. The film is anchored admirably by the three young leads; all of them just boys being boys, hanging out together over summer, getting up to mischief, arguing, laughing and struggling. These are boys with the weight of the world coming down on their shoulders; Danny, being the older brother, tries to watch out for Zak as the younger boy texts their mother, hoping for some caring or connection that will never come. Danny is never a spare wheel or annoyance; instead he becomes another brother to these uncared for siblings even as he tries to escape from his own. Things continue to spiral but the boys stick together, come mishap or mischief. It is particularly telling, I felt, that all but one adult screws them over in the course of the film.
Les geants moves at its own unhurried, but never dragging, pace as the trio end up in deeper trouble than they ever thought possible. It was an unlooked for delight and a wee gem of a film. Smaller in scope, perhaps, than Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me but also far more dangerous.