sea, calm and sun. A vacationer on his paddleboard. In a few minutes this idyllic picture is destroyed: the man is thrown into the water from his board and then eaten by a shark.
Almost 50 years since Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” struck terror in the beach town of Amity Island, New England, a shark has surfaced across the ocean to spark panic among French vacationers en route to the Atlantic Seaboard.
“Year of the Shark,” which premiered this week at the 21st Neuchatel Intl. The Fantastic Film Festival, which will be released in France on August 3, is neither a remake of Jaws nor an imitation of the genre, explain the directors, French twins Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma, who are 30 years old.
The Boukherma twins know that the arrival of the first shark movie ever shot in France, with a five-star cast, is causing great anticipation among genre fans: “We wanted to take this well-known character of American cinema and visit them new it, anchor it in our region, the south-west of France, to make a dramatic comedy with a little bit of social atmosphere,” tells Ludovic Boukherma diversity. “We weren’t interested in the shark as an animal, but as an intruder, invading a peaceful community, crystallizing the wrath of some and wreaking havoc in others. It’s a hybrid film that bridges the line between comedy, drama and shark film.”
Year of the Shark stars Maja (Marina Foïs) as a stubborn cop, assisted by Blaise (Jean-Pascal Zadi) and Eugénie (Christine Gautier). Throughout her career, Maja has been selflessly devoted to her work, with a seriousness that contrasts with the leisurely routine of her fictional town of La Pointe, where, as the narrator admits, nothing ever happens and you just “sit on your ass on the.” sand and watch the waves.”
The unexplained disappearance of a vacationer whose remains have not yet been found worries Maja. She is just days away from the early retirement she dreads but which delights her loving husband Thierry (Kad Merad), who dreams of finally spending time with her and doing just that: sitting on the beach and watching the sea . The promise of a long-awaited action thanks to the presence of the 4 meter long beast drives Maja to embark on the mission of her life: catch the shark to end her career on a high. But she’s struggling to convince residents of the seaside resort that the tourist season, after everything was shut down due to COVID, is this time threatened by an animal.
In 2017, a year after the success of their first feature film, a slightly off-beat comedy Willy 1er co-written with Marielle Gautier and Hugo P. Thomas, the Bukherma twins began writing this film, ready to embark on the to try what they loved as children: genre comedies. But they struggled to find the catch. At that time, the news in France, marked by the theme of radicalization, inspired her to create another scenario, that of “Teddy” (Official Selection of Cannes 2020) with a werewolf. And “Year of the Shark” had to skip a round.
“COVID ultimately gave us the angle of attack we were looking for,” explains Ludovic Boukherma. Like COVID, our shark wreaked havoc, starting out as a faceless monster pitting those who believe against those who don’t. It messes things up for a while, and then people start talking about something else. This year is the year of the shark. Next year there will be something to get excited about again.” In the background, the film also addresses the violence on social networks and the warming of the oceans, which led the shark to the French coast. But while it might get people thinking about these big issues at a time when crises are succeeding one another at an unprecedented rate, Year of the Shark remains above all a fun, entertaining film with impeccable cinematography and acting.
Zoran Boukherma, a graduate of the École de la Cité founded by Luc Besson, and his self-taught brother Ludovic, who has a degree in languages, shot the entire film in June and July 2021 between Cap Ferret and Biscarrosse in their native south-west. They benefited from previous lessons: unlike Steven Spielberg, who struggled when salt water damaged his shark in 1975, they shot in one of Biscarrosse’s two lakes. Mainly to dodge the Atlantic swell and be able to shoot more smoothly, they add. In post-production, all that was left was to erase the horizon.
For reasons of realism in the action scenes, the directors also chose to confront the actors with the “beast” by opting for a life-size animatronic rather than an inlay in post-production. They too had their share of mishaps: due to a freak weather that summer and an animatronic shortly before shooting due to a very tight schedule. “The technicians learned how to use it on the job, so to speak. It got stuck in the mud for four hours on the first day!” Zoran Boukherma recalls. “We also wanted this monster to be physical and not created digitally because we like the fact that it looks a bit fake at times. It’s a nod to the cardboard sharks of old movies and makes us assume that this is a fictional monster and not a real shark.” To support this homage, they also added the most famous line from Jaws: “You will need a bigger boat.”
To emphasize the fictional aspect, the brothers decided to shoot with a wide-angle lens: “It gives our film its own identity and leaves no doubt that we are in a fiction [film]. We like the idea of having a region that exists but a fictional universe.” They also spotlighted their cherished Southwest through their cast, including non-professional actors who were cast in the region: “On set, we like to control everything. But working with non-professional actors causes small “accidents”: they sometimes do not place themselves correctly in the field or forget a line of text, which surprises the professional actors. Those little flaws create a strangeness that we like to have in our films.”
During the interview, Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma speak as one person. It’s the same on set, trust me. “There is never any conflict. And if we don’t agree on something, we can talk about it and develop the film further,” says Ludovic. Zoran continues, “It’s so stressful making a film, I don’t think we’ll ever do one separately. I don’t know how others do it alone. Many writers around us are looking for a co-writer. We’re ahead of the game: we already have the perfect co-writer.” Cinema has really become a family affair for the Boukhermas: their brother Youri is a costume designer and worked on “Year of the Shark”.
However, when they were younger, Ludovic and Zoran thought they would never be able to achieve their dream: “We grew up in a small town that was light years away from cinema. Film directing seemed like an impossible job. But every day after school we wrote scripts and made short films together. Our luck was to believe in no-budget films. It was then easy to convince producers for our first feature film.” Selected by the ACID at the Cannes Film Festival, Willy the First launched Boukherma’s career at 23 years old. “We didn’t have much time left to study cinema because it started so quickly. We’re so scared it’ll stop that we spend all our time writing,” says Ludovic. However, the future looks bright: a book adaptation will be made next summer. “Production was looking for us for this big project. We’re taking a break from the genre, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop.”