A Specialist in Quick and Deadly Film Thrillers Jumps to TV

Mehdi, the cool, collected thief on the coronary heart of the French Netflix sequence “Ganglands,” is haunted by his brother’s demise. Guilt drives Mehdi’s choices as he turns into embroiled in a violent dispute amongst rival drug traffickers.

And but we all know nothing about that misplaced sibling. The present doesn’t dwell on how he died. There are not any handy explanations or evocative flashbacks.

“We did write those scenes, but we thought we shouldn’t underestimate viewers,” stated Julien Leclercq, the sequence’s director and co-creator, talking in French on a latest video name from Paris. “It’s not a bad thing to leave a back story to the imagination, to not always explain.”

And that is why his films have one of many lowest B.M.I.s within the motion enterprise: He cuts the flab. Since his debut, the 2007 sci-fi thriller “Chrysalis” (operating time: 1 hour 34 minutes), he has constructed a status as a director of environment friendly, no-nonsense rides. Even when he lands worldwide names, like Jean-Claude Van Damme within the 2019 movie “The Bouncer” (additionally 1:34) or Olga Kurylenko within the 2021 Netflix movie “Sentinelle” (good to go at 1:20), Leclercq resists the temptation to offer them extra dialogue, extra exposition or extra fights.

The query was, may Leclercq’s components work throughout the 4 and a half hours of “Ganglands,” which premiered on Netflix final week?

Sami Bouajila, whose flip as Mehdi within the sequence was his fourth outing with the director, didn’t want convincing.

“It was love at first sight — we were on the same wavelength, we had the same approach,” stated Bouajila, a well-liked big-screen main man in France whose efficiency within the movie “A Son” earned him the 2021 César Award for finest actor.

“We both love these silent, upstanding characters, a little rough around the edges, and I love his aesthetics,” he added. “Julien’s trademark is his artistic direction — there’s a rhythm, there’s a sound, and there’s silence. There are moods and feelings but the characters have a hard time expressing them, so they act upon them.”

This “show, don’t tell” method could also be one motive Leclercq’s austere model, someplace between Jean-Pierre Melville and Clint Eastwood, wants little translation: There are few subtitles to discourage these allergic to them. His movies have carried out so properly internationally for Netflix that the corporate, which had traditionally solely licensed Leclercq’s films for streaming, signed on as the first distributor for his 2020 function, “Earth and Blood” (1:20).

Leclercq’s work can really feel like a single locomotive rushing forward on straight rails — your complete plot of “Earth and Blood” boils right down to an prolonged showdown between a sawmill proprietor and sellers searching for a stolen stash. With its expanded parameters, nonetheless, the “Ganglands” engine can pull a couple of extra vehicles.

As common, the core of the story is easy: Shaïnez (Sofia Lesaffre) is kidnapped after she and her girlfriend, Liana (Tracy Gotoas), impulsively steal medicine from the incorrect man, and solely Shaïnez’s uncle, Mehdi, will help set her free. However now there’s room for the human foibles and interpersonal dynamics — and even hints at again tales — that Leclercq often dispenses with.

“We quickly latched on the idea of a family tragedy, very much in a Greek tragedy mold, which is what links all the characters,” stated Hamid Hlioua the present’s co-creator and co-writer, including that including this angle was additionally a option to keep away from merely diluting a film. “We wanted to focus on tension, action and family.”

“Ganglands” definitely operates on a bigger scale than is typical for Leclercq. However Netflix trusted that he could possibly be simply as environment friendly over six episodes as an alternative of tightly coiled in an hour and a half, and approached him with the thought. The director was within the problem.

“I think all filmmakers today have fantasies of tackling a series,” stated Leclercq, 42, a burly, loquacious man sporting tattooed knuckles. “For viewers, they are really exciting. I’ve watched ‘True Detective’ five times, ‘Breaking Bad’ three times.”

Nonetheless, Leclercq and Hlioua have been acutely aware that bloat could be a relentless menace. “Very often when there are eight episodes you feel that you could get rid of one or two,” Hlioua stated. “So we wanted to grab the viewer from the start and not let go until the last episode.”

In French, the sequence has the identical title, “Braqueurs,” as a Leclercq film from 2015, identified in the US as “The Crew” (1:21). In each, Bouajila, 55, performs the stone-faced, charismatic chief of a thieving ring, however they aren’t the identical characters and the story traces are unrelated.

“We tried to amplify every aspect,” Leclercq stated. “‘The Crew’ was set in a Parisian suburb and involved kilos of coke. Now we’re in Brussels and in the port of Antwerp, which is a hub for drugs coming from South America, and we’re not dealing with kilos anymore, but with tons. The bad guys are more powerful.”

In his function work, protecting the productions lean has been a key to sustaining the crispness of his pacing and aesthetic. He recalled shuddering when Van Damme turned up with a complete group in tow for Leclercq’s 2019 movie “The Bouncer.”

“I said to myself — and he knows that, I told him — that he was going to be a pain in the butt, his world was going to be a pain in the butt, his entourage was going to be a pain in the butt, and I could mess up the movie if he doesn’t listen to me,” Leclercq stated.

He took Van Damme apart and requested him to let go of all these showbiz accouterments; it labored.

“In the middle of the shoot he told me, ‘I’ve learned to love making movies again — I was a star, now I want to be an actor,’ ” Leclercq stated. “That was the greatest compliment he could have given me.” (Van Damme is, certainly, extraordinary.)

Leclercq’s perspective towards superstar entourages hasn’t modified. However the truth that there was room for some occasional chitchat within the script allowed for some humor — absent from Leclercq’s options, maybe as a result of it eats up treasured seconds. That is notably apparent within the scenes between Mehdi and Liana, a rookie legal who’s three many years his junior and as chatty as he’s taciturn.

“I’m a big fan of the Luc Besson movie ‘Léon: The Professional,’ so we dreamed about a duo like that, with a generational clash, a culture clash,” Leclercq stated.

It helped that the real-life relationship between Bouajila and Gotoas mirrored the same dynamic, minus bullets.

“I’m at the start of my career, he’s been around for 30 years or something,” Gotoas stated. “Liana is learning, and I was, too: I’d be checking out how he’d position himself with respect to the camera, how he modulated his performance.”

For his subsequent mission, Leclercq is stretching as soon as extra by forsaking the shootouts which have served him so properly. He’s in preproduction on a biopic of the French System 1 champion Alain Prost, with a give attention to his rivalry with Ayrton Senna within the Nineteen Eighties and early ’90s.

Automobiles are considered one of Leclercq’s nice passions, he defined. If “Ganglands” is renewed, maybe he could make room for a couple of chases.

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