Poelvoorde’s first film, “It Happened Near You”, an obscure Belgian graduation feature film, sparked unprecedented enthusiasm at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.
A dazzling start to his career for Poelvoorde
“Confusing”, “curious”, “formidable” … These are the words spoken by the spectators of the 1992 Cannes Film Festival at the exit of the screening of It happened close to you, first film in which appears Benoît Poelvoorde and who at the same time launches his career.
The movie is shot like a fake documentary. It tells the story of a team of journalists following Ben, a killer who calmly and lightly attacks little people. Gradually, the team will take part in Ben’s crimes. Written and directed by three Belgian friends in their twenties, Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel and Benoît Poelvoorde, It happened close to you was released in France on November 4, 1992. The film is a real success, in view of its meager means, with more than 500,000 entries. Even today, it is considered a cult film.
At the time, the film did not elicit lukewarm or mixed reviews: praised by Cinema Notebooks (“The success of this film is to lead the spectator beyond the initial device, of this true-false reportage which could have turned very quickly into the exercise of style.”) Or Current (“A pure anti-media delight, zigzagging at the borders of morality, dark to frighten, cruel, disgusting, to die of laughter.”, It is decried by The world (“In this invading absence, we sense something foul”) or Telerama (“a bunch of hilarious schoolboys who go around in circles with their easy provocation and wallow in the pee-poo-vomit”).
From a Brussels film school to the Cannes film festival
Originally, It happened close to you was Rémy Belvaux’s graduation film. He was then a student at INSAS, a French-speaking Brussels school of cinema. Approximately fifty minutes long, similar to the format of the show Striptease that Belvaux was borrowing, new sequences were shot some time later to allow a theatrical release.
Graphic designer at the time, Benoît Poelvoorde was not, however, destined for an acting career.. André Bonzel, the last man of the trio, remembers the shooting for Point in 2020 on the occasion of the re-release of the film on Amazon prime :
Benoît had phenomenal firepower. When we received the silent rushes of the film, we could see that Benoît was excellent, just his way of moving was unstoppable. It was clear, he was a born actor, he had a real gift of imitation, he was insane.
The film is produced in a very traditional way. Self-produced by the trio, the shooting is done according to the cash flow of Bonzel, Poelvoorde and Belvaux in order to buy film. The actors are friends and acquaintances. The mother of Ben, the main character, is thus none other than the real mother of Poelvoorde. The trio is careful not to tell the story of the film they are shooting to Madame Poelvoorde. They claim to be making a documentary about his son. Despite these precarious production conditions, improvisation was very rare on the set :
Everything was written down, and Benoît hardly ever improvised. Since we didn’t have a lot of film, we couldn’t afford to try out variations, we only did the minimum number of takes.
Some tensions even appear on the set. The meticulousness of Belvaux is confronted with the nonchalance of Poelvoorde. Filming stops before being resumed two months later.
Against all expectations, thanks to a Belgian knowledge of the director of Critics’ Week (specializing in first films and new talents), It happened close to you found itself in the official competition of the 1992 Cannes Film Festival. Its projection is very quickly the event of the festival. The first session is thus packed. 300 people show up in a 150-seat room for the next screening. Bertrand Blier in person, director of Valseuses, admits “beaten on his own ground” and has only one desire when the film comes out: “to get back to work”. The film crew then left with three awards. The SACD Prize, the International Critics Prize and the Special Youth Prize.
Scrambled because of success
During the Cannes Film Festival, the three friends sign a contract with seller. But this one will turn out to be a crook. André Bonzel explains it, still in Point :
We produced it ourselves and we got sucked into French and international distribution. There have been years of lawsuits with the guy who cheated us ….