Belgium: a magical land (for filmmakers)

A rundown section of the Tour et Taxis industrial site’s rear courtyard, under the gray skies of Belgium’s flat landscape, is the setting chosen by Alexandre Castagnetti and Julien Simonet, the directors of the fantasy film Le Grimoire d’Arkandias (Arkandias’ Book of Magic Spells).

 

“Our aim is to maintain the spirit of some American films of the 1980s,” the directors tell Le Soir. “We’re trying to bring the magic out of everyday places that are usually frightening.” The Goonies, Stand By Me and Super 8 are among the numerous works from which the film draws inspiration.

 

Based on a literary trilogy for teenagers by Éric Boisset, the first installment, Le Grimoire d’Arkandias, tells the story of Théo. An avid reader, he discovers a magic book of spells that will turn his life upside down. Coveted by everyone, the book leads him into confrontations with mysterious and evil characters. Fortunately, his friends are there to help him out.

 

Nine weeks of filming across Belgium are scheduled for the Umédia production: a Belgium upon which the French directors intend to bestow a fantastical air. What would be more logical that setting the den of terribly mean characters in the dilapidated warehouses of Tour et Taxis?

 

In fact, the Bouchers sisters (Isabelle Nanty, Anémone and Armelle) have made it their home. But the site is not the only location appreciated by the moviemakers. “The Antwerp library, the Quartier des Constellations and Tour et Taxis are all places that lend themselves to the magic of film,” says Alexandre Castagnetti.

 

Let’s not be naive. Despite a budget of €9.2 million, the principal reason the filming is taking place in Belgium is its tax shelter status. But that is not the only reason. Actors, technicians and venue rental are all cheaper in Belgium. Moreover, apart from the evil Bouchers sisters and the mysterious Agnégor Arkandias (Christian Clavier), the majority of the film’s actors are Belgian. This kind of give-and-take arrangement was imposed by the production team. “We were obligated to organize a casting session in Belgium,” explains Stéphane Lhoest, executive producer. “But we had the good fortune to discover talented actors.”

 

Starring role for young Belgian

Among them is the 14-year-old lead, Ryan Brodie. After having appeared in three feature-length movies (The Barons, Oscar et La Dame Rose, Brownian Movement), he now takes on the part of Théo in Le Grimoire d’Arkandias. This first starring role is a deserved reward for the young actor. “Working with actors that you see on TV every day is incredible,” he told Le Soir.

 

Alongside Timothée Coetsier and Pauline Brisy, the trio makes up the Belgian dream team of the film. “In France, the DDASS (French Department of Health and Social Security) imposes very strict standards when it comes to working with children,” says Lhoest. This makes it clear: it is easier, legally speaking, to hire Belgian actors than their French counterparts. Fortunately, they’re gifted; yet more good news for filmmakers! Let’s say it loud and clear: Belgium is magic for cinema, and not just because of its idyllic settings.

 

MATHIEU LEONARD

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