Posted at 7:00 a.m.
A dozen years ago, the Dardenne brothers began to write a screenplay inspired by a reality that was being talked about more and more in the Belgian media. It evoked the fate of these children from elsewhere, unaccompanied minors who, once in Europe, disappeared from radar screens, sometimes recruited by criminal organizations.
“We got wind of the story of this Cameroonian mother who was ordered to leave Belgian territory,” says Luc Dardenne during an interview with The Press in videoconference. She then told her children to go to the Liège police station, where they could obtain the status of threatened child. [mineur étranger non accompagné], and that she would then come and find them one day. Before leaving, she instructed them never to separate, because to separate, in this context, is to die. It is still revolting that such a situation exists in democracies where we are all citizens by right. »
A kind of light
Tori and Lokita began to really take shape when the filmmakers imagined a story of undying friendship, like a kind of light that could shine through the whole film. Lokita is a tall teenager and Tori a cunning and resourceful little boy. In the eyes of the hostile world they have to face, Lokita makes Tori pass for her little brother. The ties that bind them to each other are so strong that they could very well be of a family nature.
“We tried to illustrate how this story of friendship manages to resist everything and to be stronger than adversity, explains Jean-Pierre Dardenne. Not always, but often. »
“These two characters became very concrete during the writing,” adds Luc. From the start, we wanted to ensure that this friendship was true, that it could not be betrayed. From the moment we agreed, the writing could really begin and the story was then really built. Many possibilities were offered to us on the dramatic level. »
True to form, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne called on strangers to play the two main characters. The scenario writers, who particularly like the stage of the choice of the actors, point out however that it was obligatorily to proceed thus this time, the two protagonists of the history being very young. They organized audition sessions to find the two rare pearls, Pablo Schils (Tori) and Joely Mbundu (Lokita).
“In Belgium, there are no professional actors of this age, specifies Jean-Pierre Dardenne. So you have to search. Appeals were launched in the press and on social networks. We selected a hundred girls and a hundred boys. We worked a little with each and every one. For Lokita, our choice was fixed quite quickly because Joely arrived on the first or second day. The character of Tori being younger, it was more complicated. We needed someone who had this dynamism, this personality, but also to be mature for his age. We finally found Pablo, one of the last we saw! »
Regulars of the Croisette
At the Cannes Film Festival, Tori and Lokita won this year a special prize awarded by the jury (chaired by Vincent Lindon), created on the occasion of the 75e festival anniversary. Regulars of the Croisette, the Dardenne brothers have been selected in the official competition nine times. Seven of their feature films have won awards over the years, including Rosetta in 1999 and the child in 2005, both winners of the Palme d’Or.
“Of course, the award we received for Tori and Lokita pleased, but it’s a little different now, explains Luc Dardenne. Rosetta was the first of our films selected in competition and in addition to obtaining the Palme, Émilie Dequenne received the interpretation prize. It remains unforgettable. This wonderful surprise was all the more unexpected as Rosetta was presented on the very last day of the festival. This kind of thing can hardly be repeated. That said, receiving this award from 75e this year was very good too, because it means that, in a way, the jury could not miss our film. »
For the moment, the Dardenne brothers do not yet know what their next feature film will be made of. “We start from scratch each time,” says Jean-Pierre. Well, not really, but it’s like! »
Tori and Lokita is currently showing.
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The Dardenne brothers and Tori and Lokita | The strength of friendship