Belgian Filmmaker Michiel Blanchart on His Action Thriller ‘Night Call’ Set Amid Black Lives Matter Protest in Belgium

A restless spirit with a roving imagination, Belgian filmmaker Michiel Blanchart, developed his feature debut “Night Call” while ever on the move.

“I go crazy when sitting behind a desk,” he tells Variety at the Nouvelles Vagues Festival in Biarritz, France, where the movie had its world premiere this week. “I can’t just get up from the couch and open my computer, because nothing would come out. Instead I followed a routine, walking across Brussels for an hour or two each day, heading from my home to the production office waiting for inspiration to strike — and if it didn’t, I’d turn around and walk for another hour or two. In the end, 80% of the film’s locations derived from that route.”

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Blanchart, who will next adapt his award-winning short “You’re Dead Helene” into an English-language feature produced by Sam Raimi and TriStar Pictures, approached his inaugural feature from the outside in. He pooled as much from an unremarkable daily grind – the heartbreak, the nightlife, the odd quirks and architectural eccentricities he noticed of his hometown – as from the pop spectacle of Hollywood showmen.

Out of that mix came “Night Call,” a rousing action thriller that traces an unrelenting chase across a city torn by protest and crackdown. Represented internationally by Gaumont, and produced by Quad, Daylight Films and Formosa Productions, the film will open stateside later this year, backed by Magnet Releasing.

“I’ve always loved films that play out in a single night,” says Blanchart, pointing to “Collateral,” “After Hours,” and “Duel” as sources of inspiration. “So for my first feature I wanted to explore a precise setting with a clear and simple concept: One character, one town, one night.”

‘Night Call’
‘Night Call’

That character is Mady (Jonathan Feltre), a twenty-something locksmith who takes the wrong call at the wrong time, leaving him with blood on his hands and a band of gangsters (led by French stalwart Romain Duris) hot on his trail. Careening through late-night haunts and local neighborhoods, the film reflects an insider’s view of the European capital that expressly avoids familiar landmarks.

“This not a postcard vision,” Blanchart explains. “I wanted to show a side of the city rarely depicted onscreen, to film the streets as I know them.”

Indeed, the filmmaker looked towards one very particular night, restaging a June 2020 Black Lives Matter protest that soon gave way to heavy-handed police repression as a narrative element, lending this intentionally larger-than-life jaunt a dose of contemporary resonance while raising the stakes for a young Black hero who can’t quite turn to the police for help.

“We can make pleasurable and exciting genre fare that also reflect the harsher realities of the day,” says Blanchart. “If that style is perhaps less-common in Europe, [successful American efforts like “Get Out”] reflect the public’s appetite for exactly that, while all of the actors we met shared that same desire. This is a hard-hitting film that puts the main character through a tough time – and he confronts it head-on.”

At the same time, the filmmaker sought an equally dynamic tonal register, offsetting the blunt force and body blows with a golden oldies soundtrack heavy on Petula Clark. “Violence and gentleness need to exist side by side,” the director explains. “Contrasts can only ever enrich. We’re always more moved right after we’ve been shocked or after we’ve laughed. You have to mix things up in order to stay interesting.”

‘Night Call’
‘Night Call’

As if to follow his own advice, Blanchart will next look across the pond with his English-language debut “You’re Dead Helene.” Mixing horror with romantic comedy, the development title will move the action from Brussels to New York – an extended trip the filmmaker plans to make himself in order root the narrative with the same urban authenticity he brought to “Night Call.”

With his American debut already lined-up, with “Night Call” on track for a U.S. release later this year, and with “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah proving no limits for Belgian talent in Hollywood, Blanchart could easily make that move permanent – though he hasn’t put in his green card application just yet.

“I’m not ready to immerse myself body and soul in the United States,” he says. “I plan to continue making films in French and in Europe. There’s so much more ground to explore.”

“[This film was born] of a real sense of family and community,” he continues. “We shared a kind of excitement to work on a cinematic proposition that’s rare in Belgium.”

“We were so happy, even while shivering and shooting almost wholly at night. I mean, we were flipping cars and shooting wild chases on the streets of our town. [After the screening in Biarritz] people came to me, saying that I shot Brussels like Gotham City – I was thrilled, because that was exactly my intention.”

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