Belgium’s Finest Export.
By Sarah Jayne Alexander.
Imagine a snowball, starting off small, rolling down a ginormous mountain, steadily picking up momentum as it goes, increasing in size and strength, becoming a redoubtable, unstoppable force of nature, overtaking everything in its path. Now, apply that hypothesis to an everyday life situation and you’d be somewhere in the realm of where of Belgium’s rising star Matthias Schoenaerts’ career is currently at. They are almost a parallel of one another but for the simple difference, one is wet and cold and the other is a 6ft former Luis Vuitton model.
The 37 year old Antwerp born actor is – for the sake of argument – not ‘new’ to the world of acting. Suite Francaise, which is in cinemas from 13th March, is not his first film, nor his first lead. You will have seen him starring alongside the likes of Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Marion Cotillard, Clive Owen, Zoe Saldana, to name but a few. In fact, Matthias Schoenaerts has been starring in feature films since he was 12 years old, along-side his late father, also a famous Flemish actor in Academy Award nominated Daens. In Suite Francaise, his portrayal of German Officer, Bruno Von Falk, is not just one of his best performances to date, but is perhaps the one that seals the gap between art-house and mainstream. We’re set to see him in no less than six more films in 2015. Big things, it would seem, are afoot.
Barely in his acting ‘prime’ and with many more roles and best actor awards sure to adorn his Wikipedia page, Schoenaerts has already acquired the nickname ‘Belgian Marlon Brando’ (to which he profoundly disagrees) mostly for his intensity, his onscreen presence, versatility and those heavy yet sultry brooding eyebrows. A tough act to follow but, with his ability to bring the most damaged of characters to life on-screen, it is safe to say, he is not going to find slipping into the Brando shoes and going for a long walk too much of a stretch.
The next few weeks see him take the lead in no less than three new films. First up is the tragic love story Suite Francaise (The French Suite), set in 1940 France, during the war. Taken from the novel of the same name, it is the heart-breaking tale of a German Officer and the young French woman (Michelle Williams) he has to stay with whilst his battalion is stationed in her town of ‘Bussy’. The eagerly awaited film adaptation is closely followed by the release of A Little Chaos, co-starring and directed by British acting Royalty, Alan Rickman. Here, Mattihias swaps a swastika for a wig as Louis XIV’s garden designer, André Le Nôtre. Finally, in another big screen adaptation of a well-loved novel, he plays Gabriel Oak to Carey Mulligan’s Bathsheba in Far From The Madding Crowd. The second half of 2015 sees the release of A Bigger Splash, Maryland and Galveston.
We should also mention he has just about finished filming the transgender Lili Elbe adaptation The Danish Girl, opposite Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander and Amber Heard. The film is set for a November 2015 pre-award season release. Variety also reported in October 2014 that he is set to head up the cast in Alice Wincour’s French Thriller Close Protection. The term ‘busy’ doesn’t quite cover it really, does it? …PHEW!
(Above: As Alain ‘Ali’ Van Versch in Rust and Bone)
Suite Française was almost lost to history.
Sad but very true. Written by French novelist Irène Némirovsky, who died as a prisoner of war in Auschwitz in 1942, at the age of 39, she left behind a notebook containing the two novels that equate to today’s beautifully tragic Suite Française. Her daughter, Denise, believed upon finding the treasure that it would be too painful to read and instead locked it away for over 50 years, gaining nothing but layers upon layers of dust. It wasn’t until her mother’s works were being sought after for an archive that the diary resurfaced and revealed, not personal encounters of her time in the camps but a love story, set during war time, suspended in time forever… or until 1998 when it saw the light of day. Suite Française was collated and published as it was intended in France in 2004, and went on to become a bestseller around the world. It currently stands with 4 out of 5 stars on IMDB and boasts an outstanding 100% FRESH rating on international movie ‘metacritic’ review site ‘Rotten Tomatoes’.
The film was picked up in 2006 by TF1 Droits Audiovisuels who acquired the rights to the novel from French publisher Éditions Denoël. It was given a substantial budget of around £20 million and was adapted for the screen by British screenwriters Saul Dibb and Matt Charman, with Dibb signing on to direct. The film is also backed by production company’s-BBC Film, Qwerty Films and Entertainment One. It has one of the strongest castings in a feature film so far this year with recently Dame hooded Kristen Scott Thomas, Focus’ Margot Robbie, Lambert Wilson, Michelle Williams and, of course, man of the moment – Matthias Schoenaerts.
(Above: As German Officer ‘Bruno Van Balk, with Michelle Williams in Suite Française)
This is not the first ‘bad turned good’ character Schoenaerts has thrown his life and soul into since accepting the inevitable and following in his famous father’s footsteps. Making us hate him at the start but end up cheering for him at the end, taking us through a journey of transition, hitting bumps and of frozen ice (Rust and Bone) along the way, is just something he seems to do without seemingly much effort at all.
Chameleon like, Matthias has already fine-tuned the ‘requirement for role’ culture expectations of Hollywood, bulking up for his role in Bullhead in which he stars as a Flemish cattleman enticed into a shady bovine drug related deal. He just as quickly put on even more weight for his role as dad-come-fighter-come-life saver in Audiard’s 2012’s masterpiece Rust and Bone. In 2014’s The Drop, he was almost unrecongnisable (to me anyway) as street thug Eric Deeds, opposite Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and James Gandolfini. He had shed a considerable amount of weight and, with sweats and a bad attitude, was a far cry from Suite Francaise‘s rugged, well-built German Officer. Versatility, stamina and the ability to immerse oneself in a role is, a huge PLUS when being head hunted by casting agents the world over.
(Above: As Eric Deeds in 2014’s The Drop, with the late James Gandolfini)
With a monumental SEVEN films alone this year, Mr Schoenaerts’ career is showing no signs of slowing down or taking a break. He has stressed making that many films back to back will not be a regular occurrence but having already starred in a number of Academy Award nominated/winning films it’s almost certain a Best Actor Oscar nomination is not too far away. We’d say put him one your ‘one to watch’ list but you’d have to be living under a large rock in a very dark cave to miss this acting talent in 2015
Matthias Schoenaerts, you are our new favourite!
You can catch Suite Francaise in cinemas from today and check out the trailers for Far From The Madding Crowd and A Little Chaos below:
Suite Française is released today nationwide and in the US via The Weinstein Company, A Little Chaos is released in the UK on April 17th 2015, and Far from the Madding Crowd on May 1st 2015.