Belgium

L’Iceberg

L’Iceberg

Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, Bruno Romy :: Belgium :: 2006 :: 1h24

Fiona (Fiona Gordon) works as the manager of a fast food restaurant in a prefab suburb. She leads a settled-in life with her husband and two children, which are like silent carbon-copies of themselves. One day, she accidentally locks herself into the restaurant’s freezer-room setting off a journey of introspection causing her to question the entire set-up of her life. It is a line of questioning which will push her to the pursuit of a dream: sitting on a real iceberg.

The film has been made as if it was a physical theatre piece where the audience moves their chair from one scene to the next to follow the action. At every scene, we can almost feel our own presence as we sit for the action, to see what will happen. The actors battle it out in the (usually) static frame of our view. When they walk out of our field of vision, we are forced to patiently wait for them to come back on the stage, where we can see them. It is a curious approach for a film, which brings in a spectator proximity which we normally only have with theatre.

Part of this theatrical approach, is a specific portrayal of the characters. They all barely speak, as if living in a mime world. To express themselves, the characters have lost some of their human complexities, to be able to expose their core. The approach works well in combination with the curious story.

From a grey north, to a postcard coastal town to a boat on an ocean. Fiona takes us further and further away from her home in a quest to find herself, taking us with her. I loved the experience, but must warn you that some effort is required when watching. But if you can handle that, the film should keep you smiling all the way through.

http://www.mk2.fr

JCVD

JCVDJCVD

Mabrouk el Mechri :: Belgium, France :: 2008 :: 1h36

Back in Brussels from Los Angeles, an jet-lagged Jean-Claude van Damme hopes to find some peace and quiet from the cut-throat world of the entertainment business. Exhausted from his journey, from his humiliating child custody case for his daughter, and from the unending pressure to keep his career on the float. His home town of Brussels is proud of him, for being a fighter, for chasing his dreams. Unfortunately, within an hour of being back home, bad luck slips him into the heart of an unfolding  robbery. A robbery which becomes a robbery with Jean-Claude van Damme.

JCVD is a sad movie to watch. The mix of fiction with reality (the actor playing himself) brings the whole scenery close to home. It is filmed in a Belgian film noir kind of way (filming from down below with light falling on half the face for dramatic effect), with dry humour in the dialogues. The ambition of being a thriller combined with the musings of Jean-Claude van Damme, makes for an unnatural combination which takes the speed out of the thriller and puts more social drama into the musings. Three quarters through the film, Jean-Claude is actually lifted out of the scene to be left in a messy social and personal musings session.

The auto-derision of the actor and his incapacity to remove himself from the mess in which he finds himself (his life, the world) puts a weight on the shoulders of the viewer. The viewer expects the action hero to make it all right again, and he knows that this is what people expect from him. At the same time, he is afraid and there is not very much he can do to help himself, or the others. The movie does not resolve problems in Jean-Claude’s life, it merely sketches them as a portrait. At the same time, the robbery must finish, putting a beginning and an end to the time we pass with him. The portrait jostles for attention next to the unfolding robbery, leaving a somewhat unclear montage. But then again, for those who grew up on Jean-Claude van Damme movies like the director, this is a rare insight into the karate hero, and his first serious film. Watch it at the last showing at night, when your logical expectations are down, and you will come out feeling more ‘aware’.

http://www.jcvd-lefilm.com

La Fabrique des Sentiments

La fabrique des sentimentsLa Fabrique des Sentiments

Jean-Marc Moutout :: France :: 2008 :: 1h44

Eloise (Elsa Zylberstein) is a 36 year-old public notary comfortably living in her cushioned  apartment in Paris, who starts to feel the weight of solitary life on her shoulders. She decides to take matters into her own hands, to force the fate of love into her life and joins the speed-dating circus. Her snappy and cultivated responses to her job-interview-type suitors in the futuristic android environment contrast sharply, spinning her further into a sentimental void.

Eloise kept her young ideals of love into adulthood, as the princess in waiting, which conflict with the biological and society’s pressure of instant success. The movie traces the tragedy of the ambitions of romantic love, a love which requires the time and patience to develop in a world which, barring the chance of good fortune, rarely delivers. The solutions offered, are presented as a “forced marriage” of the past, despite the addition of a lingering ideal, which will more likely disappoint and destroy than be a true source of happiness.
The movie is blessed with an accuracy of portrayal of character, notably including the small side roles (the associate public notary, the intern, the seducers) and many a captivating image (a line of men and women all exchanging CV’s in the hope of finding a perfect match). The charm and beauty of Eloise in a world which clashes with her youthful fantasy makes for captivating watching. The director presents long scenes of short events as a TV show might do to provoke reactions from an audience left in the dark, even though we are given plenty of time to get to know her. A well placed bet, producing a gem of an unconventional movie of a excessively exploited theme.

Black Book

Zwartboek

Paul Verhoeven :: Netherlands / Belgium / UK / Germany :: 2006 :: 2h25

The Dutch Jewish singer Rachel (Carice van Houten) has to flee Nazi troops in The Hague in 1945, but their escape boat is intercepted and her entire family shot dead and robbed. After her narrow escape, she joins the Dutch resistance under the name Ellis. Through the chaos and immorality of occupation, the brave Ellis bizarrely enough falls in love with an SS officer.

A curious and depressing story of a very strong willed -and beautiful- woman, who in the face of the horrors which History has flung into her face, tries all she can to end the tyranny, even after she has lost everything but her life. The movie develops slowly and realistically, aggravating the impact. An image of people, uniformed or not, caught up in a violent spiral of desperation who try to save themselves, or enrich themselves with the impunity of war. Not a flattering picture of mankind, but a reminder that war generally does not bring out the best in us (despite some noble heroics), should anybody have missed out on the last 50 years of war cinema.

It is unfortunate that such a talented (albeit mainstream) director resorts to making a World War Two movie on his return to Europe after all those years in exile on the other side of the Atlantic. It would have been a pleasant surprise to have made a science fiction movie or something at least contemporary set in The Hague, as the movie does not have much to add to all the other war movies which have been produced in The Netherlands over the years. Verhouven could have used his reputation to de-stigmatize our continent as one which lives in the past and has not done anything since WWII. Maybe next time, if Verhouven sticks around.

www.blackbook-lefilm.com

La Raison du plus faible

18653822La Raison du plus faible

Lucas Belvaux :: France, Belgium :: 2005 :: 1h56

Labourers drama set in the depressing Liege, where the poverty induces the back-against-the-wall sentiment and the characters see no other alternative but to tackle it at the choking point: crime might not pay, but alternative of labour is scarce, dehumanising and near futile. A hold-up plan is made, and the men pass the threshold of no-return. The have-not‘s will steal from the have‘s in a naive entrepreneurial solution.

A slow social drama aimed at reminding us that although Belgium tops many a statistical chart in the economic press as one of the richest countries on earth, it is none the less rooted in the Dickens poverty era. A theme so endlessly addressed, it would not surprise me if by now many believed Belgium to be the last European country still struggling with the ugly beginnings of the industrial revolution. Compare this image with Daens (Stijn Coninx, Belgium, 1993) set in 1890 and you can content yourself that child labour has been abolished, but the country did not get much further than that. Life is ugly, crude, violent and short.

In cinema, the national image is endlessly tarnished by mostly commentaries from expatriated Belgian film makers. Even in a social thriller, it is possible to show the nation and its people from a more positive angle. It is not an image of hopelessness, like a rich versus poor Roman stand-off, which brings about change. A little recognition for the achievements of the nation would be more than welcome, as would the showing of the considerably more complex -and thankfully more joyful- social fabric. Points may be granted here for character analysis and development, but the overall pessimism and negativity do more harm than good. Perhaps Mr Belvaux should spend a little less time in flashy Paris and a little more in his native Belgium to balance out the score.

Dikkenek

18629489Dikkenek

Olivier van Hoofstadt :: Belgium :: 2006 :: 1h24

Dirty male characters who shout and fight and pretty girls who drink and kiss, in a trashy world of money of scum. A not-for-everybody cultish movie which flirts with originality and vulgarity, in a lukewarm soup which keeps the pace despite being little more than a sequence of sketches. For people who can live with Poelvoorde-type returns in an unappealing setting, where anything goes. Requires a very specific sense of humour and a high tolerance level to be able to fish out the good parts -if you consider the old boot worthwhile- out of this fluid guck.

http://www.dikkenek.com

L’enfant

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L’enfant
Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne :: Belgium, France :: 2004 :: 1h35

Set in a depressing industrial suburb of Liège (Belgium), young down-and-out Bruno lives in the here and now, selling anything he can get his hands on to stay afloat. When his girlfriend Sonia comes onto the scene with their little boy, Bruno finds himself having to come to terms with this little one in a cruel world. Crowned at Cannes 2005 with the Palme d’or, the Dardenne brothers – not known for their lighthearted films- sign another harsh reality with characters who act first rather than try to think or feel. We follow the protagonist so closely that you can only hear the sounds (as he does) around him without seeing the action. It forces us into the skin of the protagonist, which is not a very welcoming place to be. Their baby is present throughout a large part of the movie, but we never really see him, as neither of his parents actually speak to him. He is there, but not much more than that. The baby is so helpless, the actual embodiment of a character still to come, that our protagonists do not really know how to deal with him. They themselves have no notion of a future in their animalistic approach to their being. A position which will have to change, if not by thought preceding act, then by instinct. An impressive, and worrying portrait.