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From movies to marionettes: an actor swims against the tide

The moustachioed star, 58, is increasingly turning from the silver screen to puppetry.

Following a feted four-decade career, Bouli Lanners is increasingly turning from the silver screen to puppetry
Following a feted four-decade career, Bouli Lanners is increasingly turning from the silver screen to puppetry - Copyright AFP Munir uz ZAMAN
Following a feted four-decade career, Bouli Lanners is increasingly turning from the silver screen to puppetry - Copyright AFP Munir uz ZAMAN
Matthieu DEMEESTERE

Award-winning Belgian film actor Bouli Lanners tenderly applies the final brushstrokes to a traditional wooden puppet he is working on in the cellar of his home in Liege.

Following a feted four-decade career — which saw him claim best supporting actor at the French equivalent of the Oscars this year — the moustachioed star, 58, is increasingly turning from the silver screen to puppetry.

After inheriting last year a collection from his father-in-law, whose family had run one of Liege’s famed puppet troupes, he is now looking to set up his own theatre in his backyard with his wife.

“A puppet hanging in a library is a dead puppet, you have to give it life, make it play,” he told AFP.

“Our goal is to transmit theatre.”

In an age of computer-enhanced superhero blockbusters and streaming services, the couple might seem to be swimming against the tide.

But Lanners is convinced there is still room for the slower form of entertainment that has always had a special place in this working-class town of 200,000 in eastern Belgium.

“Until the 1920s, there were 62 theatres in Liege,” Lanners said.

“Cinema killed off puppetry somewhat, but today there are still six fixed and three travelling theatres.

“Puppetry is still very present in the DNA of the people of Liege, and it’s the children who come to see it, not the older generations.”

– ‘We don’t need much’ –

Another part of the motivation for Lanners, a committed environmentalist, is to get away from what he sees as the unsustainable energy consumption of film sets.

“The wood for the puppets is basswood, and we don’t need much,” he says.

“We buy the props at flea markets. We paint the sets ourselves on bed sheets.”

Lanners and his wife hope to stage two performances each week from January in their 30-seater theatre.

Their troupe consists of an impressive series of around 160 characters and animals including donkeys, snakes and dragons, which they will manipulate at arm’s length behind the stage.

That is no mean feat, given that some of the puppets can weigh over 10 kilogrammes (20 pounds) and stand 80 centimetres (30 inches) tall.

Lanners is still not turning his back entirely on cinema — but reckons he will cut his output down to one film a year.

“I feel less and less comfortable with my place in this industry,” he said.

“I want to change my life, and my ideals too.”

AFP
Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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