Interview: Jérémie Guez, Filmmaker

Although he’s just 32-years-old, Jérémie Guez already has an impressive resume. The native of France has a handful of acclaimed noir novels, a batch of screenplays and two films that he’s directed to his credit.

Guez’s latest work is the crime drama Brothers By Blood, which he directed and adapted from the novel Brotherly Love Pete Dexter (Paris Trout). Set mostly in the rough working class section of Philadelphia known as Grays Ferry, the gritty film follows low-level criminal cousins played by Joel Kinnaman (The Informer) and Matthias Schoenaerts (A Little Chaos) who try to deal with personal and family trauma while battling the Italian mob as it muscles in on their turf.

We recently spoke to Guez, who was in Belgium at the time, about Brothers by Blood (which was originally titled The Sound of Philadelphia) and his career.

Disc Dish: How familiar were you with Pete Dexter’s novels, especially Paris Trout, The Paperboy and God’s Pocket, which were made into films?

Jérémie Guez: I was very familiar and I was big fan. I liked the movies–even The Paperboy which people said rough things about. I am a fan of the work of  Lee Daniels [who directed the film]. I  optioned this book myself years ago.

DD: What is it about Dexter’s work that impresses you?

JG: I read Paris Trout a long time ago. Right from the beginning, I was impressed with his powerful voice and I love low-key crime stories, which is what Dexter specializes in.

DD: Dexter was a controversial columnist at the Philadelphia Daily News for years and set a lot of his books in Philly. What were your impressions of the city?

JG: I wanted to use Philly an important character in the film. The first time I was there to scout locations months before we started shooting, it reminded me of the Paris of 90s before it was gentrified, when it was rougher. It was my first city in America I came to and I felt a personal connection immediately. It’s not exotic, but I liked the city in that it was mixed like cities are in Europe, where blue collar neighborhoods are mixed with different ethnicities and origins.

DD: Your two lead actors hail from Sweden (Kinnman) and Belgium (Schoenaerts) and in this film they play Irish gangsters in Philly. How did you and the actors handle this challenge in terms of accents? How do they prepare for their roles?

JG: Joel is actually half American–his father is from America–and he works a lot to repeat his lines. Matthias is very secretive and does his own thing. But  you can’t find a local accent if you don’t come from the place. You can become self-conscious. I thought the best approach was to not push the accents, actually. Ryan Phillippe, who is also in the film, kind of helped since he was more familiar with the accents in the area. (Editor’s note: Phillippe was born in Delaware.)

DD: You have gone back and forth, directing the slice-of-life drama about an ex-con called A Bluebird in the Heart in 2018, and writing several  screenplays before that, including the acclaimed zombies-invade-Paris saga A Night Eats the World. Do you plan on continuing as a director, screenwriter or both?

JG: I don’t really know. It depends on where my energy is and the timing of everything. It did take me many years to get to direct this.

DD: Can you tell me who is your favorite director or your favorite films?

JG: There are so many, it’s tough. I guess I’d say Samuel Fuller. I love Shock Corridor, his Korean War movies.

DD: You seem to be interested in the everyday grind of crime and common people involved in it. Why do you think this is a focus for you?

JG: I guess I could say that for a crime movie or any movie I prefer that approach. People like to see shiny people or big people in crime movies. I like noir novels about people in neighborhoods and in which broken people are involved in the story. People waking up in morning and trying to make a living, basically. That’s what movies are to me and that’s what I like to see, how things go every day. You only have antiheroes. They are fighters who are f*cked up. I don’t care about Superman.

If it’s entertaining I get it, but going to movies to be entertained and getting involved emotionally is a different experience.

Released theatrically by Vertical Entertainment, Brothers by Blood is currently available on iTunes, Vudu and other streaming platforms. It will be released on DVD by Lionsgate on March 16, 2021. 

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.