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Brothers By Blood: Jérémie Guez On A Story About Atavism [Exclusive Interview]

Brothers By Blood

Jérémie Guez is the director of the new gangster film Brothers By Blood. A story of self destruction based on the Brotherly Love novel by Peter Dexter.

The Synopsis

In the City of Brotherly Love, eight-year-old Peter Flood (Matthias Schoenaerts, “Rust and Bone“) helplessly watches on as his little sister is killed by a neighbor’s reckless driving. Tormented with grief and resentment, his father (Ryan Phillippe, “Crash“)finds revenge as the only solution, leaving lasting generational wounds. Thirty years later, Peter still wrestles with the guilt he feels over his sister’s death and his father’s vengeance. As he tries to distance himself from the criminal family business, his cousin, Michael (Joel Kinnaman, “The Killing“) becomes more powerful in the hierarchy. Bonded by blood, neither man can escape violence as they are dragged further into a chilling cycle of betrayal and retribution.

I had the opportunity to speak with the French director Jérémie Guez to discuss the making of Brother By Blood. He spoke about the cast, his experience in the filming locations, favorite scene and what attracted him about the novel.

Nancy Tapia: I am happy to discuss Brother By Blood with you, specially about the title. I got the chance to watch the movie, but the start of the film reads the Sound of Philadelphia. So can you tell me about the title?

Jérémie Guez: It’s just the US title. There’s not much to say.

Nancy Tapia: Okay. I know it was based on the novel, Brotherly Love by Peter Dexter. Why the title change?

Jérémie Guez: Wow. I don’t know. There are so many titles and sometimes it’s not really up to the director to choose. Yeah, I guess it’s different markets and how people will respond to the movie. It was just a feeling that the local people in charge, I don’t know. It’s just like something local, I guess, like the title changed from one country to the other. It’s hard for me to explain why, because I’m not familiar with every market. I’m sure it makes perfect sense when you’re familiar with the market. I’m French, so I think I can only speak for what I know and what my tastes are, but that’s it.

Nancy Tapia: Got it. Well, I personally preferred Sound of Philadelphia, after watching the film.

Jérémie Guez: I’m glad you say this.

Nancy Tapia: Was it filmed in Philadelphia? 

Jérémie Guez: Yeah, it was shot in Philadelphia. We did a few interiors, not on location. But yeah, all the exteriors. It was really important for me to go there. I think that’s the first thing that struck me when I read the Pete Dexter novel.

I had never been to Philadelphia before. So I went there, just to check if it was, because the story could have happened anywhere. But there was something in it. I had the feeling that there was something in it that was very particular to that city and these neighborhoods. I just wanted to check for myself for my vision, or it was for real.

I visited Philly, really loved it. Like the underdog feeling, the pride, the blue-collar environment. It reminded me of  some areas of Paris in the ’90s, when it was still a little rougher. I guess that’s what I liked in the book, and I connected. I personally connected with the city and I could relate to what was in the book. I kind of understood why it attracted me so much.

Brothers By Blood
Matthias Schoenaerts as Peter

Nancy Tapia: Peter’s character as an adult gave me a little bit of the Rocky vibe. He was very reserved, doesn’t say much. But then when he did he said it was direct message. You know what I mean? They both had signature items a hat and jacket. 

Jérémie Guez: Oh, that’s cool. Yeah. I guess there’s like a dome. We’re talking about characters that have been like that are very humble, that lack maybe a little arrogance or self-esteem. And we take it as a quality or a default. I think he’s white and he has very low self-esteem. Yeah, and he still feels really guilty about what happened in the past. And is a story of a guy who stopped living when his sister died, and who feels so guilty about it and stays stuck in that era and in these trauma and all the aftermath and what it meant to his family. He feels like he’s responsible for the destruction, not only the death of his sister, but the destruction of his whole family.

I think he got stuck back there. You have this big guy that is like an alpha male buddy that is being verbally abused by every other character in the movie. Where he can’t really face people and tell them what he really thinks, because he’s not really sure he has a right to do it.

So I guess I understand what you mean. There are characters that don’t know in the beginning of the movie they have the right to exist, and they can really become themselves in the area where they live. I think their journey is going to be accepting who they are and being accepted in the world by other people as they are.

Nancy Tapia: You mentioned the scene that initiated his trauma, the guilt with the sister. This shot was a pretty strong shot and is filmed with kids too. What was it like to work and direct kids in such a big scene like that?

Jérémie Guez: To be honest, I don’t know, kid actors in the States, they’re like pro actors. In Europe, it’s not as professional. So we just hire kids, and you try to explain to them what’s in the movie and you try to find a common language.

Here you have a totally different culture. So it’s like having any other actor on set. I think it’s more like a relief, because I thought it was going to be like in Europe, where it’s like, people who were completely exterior to the movie industry had come on set. You have to find a way to talk, and you have to feel at ease. It’s a very fun, but very tricky work relationship that starts.

Brothers by Blood
Nicholas Crovetti as young Peter

In the States, it’s like having Nicholas Crovetti or Matthias Schoenaerts on set, is the same in terms of  both being super-professional. So yes, I just didn’t think it was anything different than working with any other adult actor on the movie.

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Nancy Tapia: Can you tell me a little bit how the cast came together? Because you got really good actors.

Jérémie Guez: Yeah. Yeah. I got lucky. Matthias has been attached for a long time to the project, and then the rest of the cast came kind of last minute. I’m really grateful to Joel Kinnaman, because he accepted last minute. He had time to learn the Philly accent, rehearse, and find his character.

He was shooting a show for Apple, I think, and he was working at night with me. It was crazy, it was great. Super-enthusiastic, fearless, and he won’t do something unless it’s 100%. So it’s not like he was shooting his stuff. And he told me, “Yeah. I’ll see you on set, or in the fitting room. I can do this.”

Brothers by Blood
Ryan Phillippe as Charley and Paul Schneider as Jimmy

He just wanted to make sure that he could find the character before accepting. So yeah, I really felt blessed too. I found him on the way, because he was such a perfect cousin in the movie to the Matthias. Just the opposition of these two guys was way better than any of my dreams. So yeah, that was really cool.

Ryan Philippe, I was a huge fan of his. I’m a huge fan of a movie he did when he was young, The Way of the Gun, the Christopher McQuarrie cult movie. I’m a huge fan of his filmography. Obviously, he’s one of the amazing directors.

Brothers by Blood
Make Monroe as Grace

Oh, like Maika Monroe, I love and have been following her, then. Paul Schneider. They’re all stars and actors as well. They’re all super.

I couldn’t have dreamt of having more professional casting, and they’re still… They show up on set with just their set of skills. They’re always working and trying to find their characters. I was really happy with the actors. I picked them all up. I got lucky, I guess it’s rare in a US movie. 

Nancy Tapia: It sounds like you really enjoyed working with this cast and I’m sure that facilitated filming. What scene were looking forward to shooting and looked forward to seeing onset happen?

Jérémie Guez: The horse scene, when Michael (Joel Kinnaman) asked who to kill his horse, because he got injured, and then changed his mind. That was my favorite thing in the book.  I was really looking forward to shooting it.

Brothers by Blood
Joel Kinnaman as Michael

Nancy Tapia: That scene, I actually covered my face, because I was afraid it was going to show the horse when it happened, I was like, “Oh no.” Then I kind of uncovered and was relieved it was not one of those movies that have to be so explicit in showing pain. I feel like sometimes you don’t need to show the subject being hurt when you know the obvious. 

Jérémie Guez: Yeah, especially animals.  I agree with you. Our society is violent enough, you don’t need to be graphic all the time. I feel you 100%.

Nancy Tapia: Yeah, no need to always be explicit. So, no horses were hurt? [Chuckles]

Jérémie Guez: No. There was no actual horse in the box. [Chuckles]

Nancy Tapia: Let’s go back to the beginning of the film, The starting credits, what brought that idea to apply crime clips?

Jérémie Guez: I thought it the movie is not really about this, but you know that’s kind of their background, but it’s never going to be like it was shown in the movie. So it was just you have a location, and you have an idea of what was the era, and what was the atmosphere where they grew up. I think it just shows the weight of the past.

When you grow up in such environment, you become used to stuff that is not normal. It’s just like, just to make sure that during the opening credits, you realized what were their youth memories were, of three or four generations of gangsters. That they did it, not because they wanted to do it, but much more because it’s the family tradition.

Brothers by Blood
Matthias Schoenaerts as Peter

So, it just explains that it’s a story about atavism. and you’re not going to see stuff like this in the movies, because you’ve seen it 1,000 times. But it’s just the aftermath, and it’s like what could be the life of any Scorsese character’s grandson, or great-grandson. 

So just showing the end of the myth as well. Like the American Gangster, and the East Coast American gangster in something big. Today, it’s nothing. There’s no more mob. It’s over. Yeah, they’re different families and all this, it’s over. So it tells yeah, the end of an era. The characters are kind of dark and broke, and they’re not big-time criminals. 

Nancy Tapia: I really appreciate that. I did catch on that, that the movie didn’t emphasize exactly on the families “profession” and passed on duties. 

Jérémie Guez: Yeah.

Nancy Tapia:  That was a brilliant idea. To finalize real quick, anything you want to share that you’re going to be working on this year or material of yours that will be seen?

Jérémie Guez: No, it’s a troublesome year, so no. But, who knows, nothing for sure specifically.

Nancy Tapia: Thank you for your time and speaking about Bother by Blood.

Jérémie Guez: Thank you so much, Nancy.

Brother By Blood is now available in select theater and VOD

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