Posts Tagged ‘Belgian indie’

Manu (2018) *** IDFA 2018

Dir: Emmanuelle Bonmariage | Doc | Belgium | 92′

Alzheimer’s is a one of the great human tragedies of modern times. Obliterating personalities, relationships, families, it strikes without warning, often inflicting the most talented and leaving a trail of misery and sadness in its wake. No one escapes its fatal curse.

Belgian filmmaker Manu Bonmariage was 76 when he succumbed. During his career he  made over eighty documentary films, contributing a vast body of work to the landscape of Belgian cinema and television (including the French-Belgian TV show “Strip-Tease”) and establishing himself as a memorable feature of the country’s wider cultural fabric. Sensitive and highly creative (“the camera is my mistress, I like to feel her in my hands”), he co-films here with his director daughter to record their fraught, deteriorating relationship in this painful love letter to his creative past. Manu also serves a socio-political history of Belgium during his lifetime, even recording the time he got stuck down a mineshaft!. This haunting collage of memories, reminiscences, upbeat archive footage (a New York sequence set in the 1960s is one of the most vibrant), medical meetings, musical interludes and cathartic exchanges cannot fail to sadden and amuse. Manu is an endearing and unsettling tribute that will resonate with those involved with the affliction and keen cineastes who remember Manu’s work. MT.


Emma Peeters (2018) Venice Film Festival 2018 | Giornate degli Autori

Dir.: Nicole Palo; Cast: Monia Chokri, Fabrice Adde, Stephanie Crayencour, Andrea Ferrol, Anne Sylvain, Jean Henri Compere, Abdre Ferreol; Belgium 2018, 90 min.

Nicole Palo’s second feature is a charming but fluffy comedy about a Belgian would-be actress plagued by her embarrassing parents and fashion faux pas. Shot idyllically, mostly in Belleville Monia Chokri’s portrayal of the titular heroine is an impressive performance. 

Emma (Chokri) is in her mid-thirties and has made the decision to throw in the towel on her acting career in Paris and radically also to end her life. After visiting a funeral parlour – wearing her usual faux-sheep coat and looking very sheepish indeed – she attracts the attention of the owner Alex (Adde), whose struggle with reality is just as troubled. A good-bye visit to her annoyingly banal parents (Sylvain/Compere) in Belgium is followed by several unsuccessful attempts to get rid of her cat Jim, who clings on (clearly loving her jacket). And her friends are no great help either: Stephanie (Crayencour) is a blond, vacuous version of Emma (but a success with men of all sexual orientations) and is only interested in her friend when she wants to borrow her tiny flat to sleep with married men. Her ‘best friends’ Bob and Serge, gay hairdressers, think that a new haircut may lift her spirits. After Mum and Dad turn up for an uninvited visit, we begin to understand Emma’s pain. And when Alex finally gives Emma the promised suicide pill, we know that a happy-end awaits all concerned: Stephanie is pregnant by Bob and/or Serge, and Emma will be the god-mother.

There are shades of the late Solveig Ansbach here (Queen of Montreuil), but without her love of detail and anarchic complications. Palo just goes for the most obvious laughs, using Belleville as a background and creating a succharine atmosphere. On top there are half-baked characters like Bernadette (Ferreol), a lonely old woman who not well-disposed towards Emma. At best this quirky comedy drama could be described as endearing. AS



Raw (2016) | Bluray release

Dir: Julia Ducournau | France/Belgium | Horror Fantasy Thriller | 99′

RAW has a distinctive visual style that made it one of the most refreshingly gruesome watches of 2016, scooping awards at Cannes, Sitges and London for Franco Belgian auteur Julia Ducournau. Often gory but never schlocky, her debut feature sees a young vegetarian woman struggle with an identity crisis as she completes her training to be a vet, while gradually growing obsessed by meat.

Justine is desperate to conform to her family’s expectations and fit in with her new friends but a freshers’ night hazing ritual forces her to sample raw rabbit liver, awakening her tastebuds to the temptations of flesh of all kinds – not just the animal variety. Previously committed to a diet of free from beast protein she suddenly finds herself drooling over the lusty bodies of the male students and the blood dripping from the severed finger of her close friend during a particularly challenging bout of bikini waxing.

There are echoes of Cronenberg’s body horror and Belgian cult outing Alleluia to Ducournau’s compelling mix of horror and fantasy thriller, which she describes as “a modern ancient tragedy about too much love”, Raw is both grim and bracing in its originality with a dynamite central performance from Garance Marillier (star of Ducournau’s 2011 short Junior) as Justine, the wide-eyed fresher student we first encounter spitting out a piece of sausage during a family lunch on the way to the Vet college, where they also trained decades before. An unsettling scene featuring a horse’s anaesthesia is then followed by a gruesome initiation ceremony where students are drenched in blood before their exams begin – is this from the horse? All very visceral and disturbing. The scenes that follow in her Vet college are steeped in motifs relating to bestiality and brutality.

Ducournau nips between the genres with the help of her cinematographer Ruben Impens who takes us down into a claustrophobic world of sweaty bodies and frightening procedures including one scene where Justine is plagued by a mysterious seeping rash, while mobile phones capture the zeitgeist of the student milieu echoed in a well chosen score that includes the Orties’ aptly named: Plus Putes que routes les Putes. “An animal that has tasted human flesh is not safe,” How true. This clever filmmaker has since returned to the small screen with the series Servant now on AppleTV+. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON limited BLURAY from 19th April 2021 |AMAZON.CO.UK

No Home Movie (2015) | Locarno Film Festival

Director: Chantal Akerman

Belgium/France​ Documentary ​115mins

As its title suggests, NO HOME MOVIE is a chronicle of displacement. Chantal Akerman’s latest documentary is an immensely personal portrait of her mother, Natalia ‘Nelly’ Akerman, who died aged 86 in April last year. Born in Poland, like the filmmaker’s father, Nelly fled to Belgium in 1938, only to be sent to Auschwitz; surviving, she lived in Brussels thereafter. Shooting this diaristic dispatch over the course of several months, Akerman captures the mundane details of her mother’s existence, whether through Skype conversations or within her actual home, while incorporating footage of her own travels through a barren Israeli landscape.

It’s in this latter terrain that the film opens, with a lengthy take of a single tree being persistently battered by a ceaseless wind. The next shot is of the much greener and more tranquil grounds of a park, and the one after that is of the small garden that Nelly’s apartment overlooks. Akerman frames her mother’s home from unlikely angles, drawing attention to the fact that her film is a construction, and making a point, with half-obscured compositions, of its voyeuristic edge, as if to question the efficacy and even morality of such an intrusive concept.

Filming a Skype conversation that she conducts from Oklahoma, Akerman remarks, “I want to show there is no distance in the world.” Her mother is touched: “You always have such ideas.” When inside the apartment itself, the filmmaker leaves the camera running from a tabletop or a chair, evidently not fussed when it comes to polished compositions; her white-balances and exposure levels fluctuate like those in an amateur film. The title is a pun: in cinematic terms this is a dull film, not just in its unvarnished digital textures but also in its emphasis upon the domestic quotidian.

What kind of insights does Akerman glean, or expect to glean, from her mother’s life? Given her reluctance to talk of her time at Auschwitz, very little can be gathered of her imprisonment by the Nazis—which gives the more unremarkable anecdotes a doubly revelatory edge. During one scene in which mother and daughter eat lunch, one topic covered is whether or not the latter can cook well. These exchanges are the sum of their relationship. As the film progresses, less conversation takes place; Nelly’s declining health, and her worsening dementia, become evident.

Akerman mentioned in a recent interview that she probably wouldn’t have been able to make the film had she known it was to be a completed narrative from the off. Given the nature of its production, she could hardly have foreseen the way in which her mother’s physical and mental frailty grew—and so NO HOME MOVIE is frequently marred by an arbitrary structure and long sequences in which the filmmaker simply contemplates the seemingly empty apartment. Its poignant premise notwithstanding, this is a dreary film to sit through.

Given the filmmaker’s reputation and legacy (it’s some 40 years since she made her rigidly structured JEANNE DIELMAN in 1975), one can only assume that we’re to take the directorial credit here as a sign of inherent value. Experimentation and self-indulgence are two of art’s defining features, of course, but the success of the experiment depends at some point on the ‘self’ being indulged. It’s probable that making this film was a cathartic and challenging process for Akerman, and apparently she’s edited her final cut from 40 hours of footage. But when we’re asked to sit through a film-schoolishly juvenile and frankly tedious ‘scene’ in which she films her own shadow on a pond, we have to ask if the process is being valued at the expense of the product. MICHAEL PATTISON


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