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‘The Ardennes’ Director Talks ‘Underbelly Characters,’ Wrangling Ostriches

TheWrap Screening Series: Belgian Oscar submission follows two brothers with a checkered past and diverging futures

Robin Pront may look like the fresh-faced recent film school student he is, but he’s drawn to dark and gritty characters like Kenny, a just-out-of-jail petty criminal who is the protagonist of Pront’s “The Ardennes,” a gritty drama that’s Belgium’s official entry for this year’s Academy Awards.

“These underbelly characters are something I relate to very much,” the 29-year-old director said in a discussion following a Los Angeles showing Wednesday night, part of TheWrap Screening Series. “I like characters with a different moral compass from me. I have fun playing God in my own universe with these people.”

“The Ardennes” begins when brothers Kenny (Kevin Janssens) and Dave (Jeroen Perceval) are reunited after Kenny is released from prison following a failed home invasion both were part of. Dave has since dropped the drinking and drug-fueled lifestyle — and has started a covert serious relationship with Kenny’s ex-girlfriend, Sylvie, who’s also living clean. But as Kenny’s return to his old ways start to pull Dave back in, the brothers’ relationship gets even more complicated.

Janssens said he grew up outside the Belgian city of Antwerp around guys like Kenny, which made him more relatable.

“When I first read the script I was blown away by it, because of the characters and the story and the dialogue,” Pront told TheWrap editor in chief Sharon Waxman. “It was really fun for me to give that character a kind of soul like the people I grew up with.”

And as far as developing the relationship between the brothers, Pront had a leg up. Janssens and Perceval, who wrote the play the film is based on and co-wrote the screenplay with Pront, also played siblings in a play when they attended drama school together.

One thing Pront would not do again — work with a certain flightless bird that featured in one of the film’s action sequences.

“If I could give you one tip my dear Hollywood friends, never work with ostriches,” he said.

Pront shared tips on how to scare an ostrich into submission — wave your hand above your head so they think you’re taller than you really are — but said he has absolutely no desire to use that technique in the future.

“I’m scared of them,” he said. “They have ostrich farms in the Ardennes and I thought it would be funny. They are big birds but they have the smallest brains ever.”

“The Ardennes” opens in New York on Jan. 6, Los Angeles on Jan. 13, and will roll out to other major markets after that. It will be distributed in the U.S. by Film Movement.