Archive for the ‘Flanders’ Category

Childhood memories often lead to great cinematic experiences. Most of them are coming of age stories that take place in a not so distant past. Some are quite dramatic if the historical setting was violent or dark. But most of them beam with nostalgia to better days. In Café Derby the setting is the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1985 to Belgium. It’s mentioned several times and causes most of the drama, but it’s just a random fact. More important is the bond between a young girl and her naively ambitious dad.

And that young girl is the director of this movie. So it’s a very personal story and you can feel it. Is it extraordinary? Not at all. But it’s a very good hommage to her dad and how she remembers him at a time when he was still a hero to her. Memories fade and sometimes you just remember the good things. So it’s noteworthy that the hommage is very well balanced. No, her dad wasn’t a hero. Nor was he a bad person. He was just a dad. With ambitions. And flaws.

It’s an easy movie to watch. And it’s well made and well acted. But the story itself isn’t so compelling. It’s just told in a very affectionate way. Like when you’re in the early stages of a relationship and you ask your partner to share a childhood memory of their dad. It doesn’t really matter then what the memory is all about. You just want to hear your partner share you a personal story. And that’s exactly what happens while watching this movie. You don’t know the director, but she tells a personal story and you feel privileged to listen.

www.imdb.com/title/tt3892822/

This Flemish/Dutch crime series is available to watch on Netflix around the globe. Give it a chance. It’s good. Not sure if it’ll appeal to a larger international audience, but it’s well made, well acted and well directed.  The final episode is a bit of a disappointment (a cliffhanger hints at a second season), but in general this is great stuff.

Two cops (one Flemish, one Dutch) have to go undercover at a camping ground to acquaint a notorious drug dealer (in xtc). It’s a tough job, because. the drug dealer distrusts everyone and puts on a great act. He’s the fun loving joker to his superficial neighbors, but a ruthless killer to those who cross him. Never thought about it during the show, but Tony Soprana comes to mind right now. Which is not a good thing, because it doesn’t make the show unique.

What makes it unique is the setting and the many references to Flemish-Dutch culture. Which may get lost to an international crowd. The acting is top notch though. Tom Waes, who plays one of the undercover cops, is a popular tv presenter (with few acting credits to his name) and is surprisingly good. He is very convincing. His undercover partner is played by Anna Drijver, who does a great job in giving her character more than is scripted. The best acting is done by Frank Lammers, the intriguing drug lord, and Elise Schaap as his naive wife. Those are just the four main leads, but all the acting is great.

The story is a typical crime story. There are a few twists, but they are never really surprising. In the end it’s two undercover cops who need to befriend a drug lord and lure him into a drug deal that the police can bust.

But, not in New Jersey or Medellin. Just in the unappealing camping ground setting on the border between Flanders and the Netherlands. Cool trailer though.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt7263154

The devastating First World War. Four years of chaos and death in Flanders Fields. And at the end there was the Spanish flu.

It’s quite surreal to watch this Flemish series during corona times. But it’s being removed from Netflix by the end of the month and the idea was to finish it before the many professional trips to Ypres next month.

The show is well filmed and there is much eye to detail. The research was done well and the period setting is great. But the over-abundance of storylines is getting annoying halfway into the show. World War I is a fascinating period in history and there are so many facets of the war that were never addressed in major Hollywood movies. But to pack them all into a ten episode series is just not good.

Even though it’s an international production, it is still a Flemish series and the focus is on the story of a Flemish family. This may not appeal to international audiences as they will not understand the many references. We see the family Boesman from Ghent at the outbreak of the war. Doctor Boesman is a gynecologist who wants to become a professor at the university and assumes the war will soon be over. His wife, who is part of the catholic bourgeoisie, is at his side. Their oldest son is ready to go to battle. Their younger son is more opportunist and prefers to stay home and continue his work as as sales person. The daughter is too young to do anything, but she aspires to be a doctor one day, like her dad.

The characters are intriguing and good guides through the thick storybook of little tales about the war. But at one point it’s enough. Everything is mentioned. Briefly and superficially.  The Flemish social pillar system (socialist/catholic/liberal); the subordinate role of women, the Flemish collaboration and resistance, the pop-up brothels for the English officers, the gas attacks, the smuggling, the espionage, the food shortage, the Christmas truces, the war tactics, … and they still add romance to it all as well.

To give you a spoiler example focussing on the daughter. She wants to become a doctor but can’t as a woman, betrays her best friend whose father is German, tries to run errands for the resistance, is attracted to the young German officer who occupies her house, smuggles something across the border to her Grandmother, has an abortion, flees to England, becomes a nurse, meets her brothers in battle, etc… She clearly is the main character of the show, but actress Lize Feryn can’t carry the show. Luckily she is assisted by two actors playing her parents. Wim Opbrouck is great as the collaborating gynecologist and Barbara Sarafian is at her best trying to support her husband’s bad decisions.

Unfortunately it’s not a must-see and even a drag by the end.

www.imdb.com/title/tt2253780

F.C. De Kampioenen was (and still is) the most popular sitcom in Flanders. It ran for 22 seasons (some 280 episodes in total) and then stopped, much to the regret of the many fans. It’s a terrible show, with stereotypical characters and lame humor, based on ‘misunderstandings’ and full of slapstick.  Yet, somehow, it’s incredibly popular with several generations of kids and seniors (and all the adults who started watching it as a kid). It’s an iconic series that has spouted many one-liners that became part of our cultural patrimonium. It’s about an amateur soccer team who constantly has trouble with the owner of the garage next door.

Because of its popularity, they started with feature movies that get a theatrical release around Christmas every other year. The fourth one became the most successful Flemish (and thus Belgian) movie of 2019 (within one week of its release). So, something must appeal to a large audience, right?

Kampioenen Forever is the third installment, shown on tv tonight. If you have never seen the tv show, don’t watch it. You really need to know the characters to appreciate it at least a little bit. To be honest, I never thought I would be able to finish this movie, but I did. And I even laughed. Twice. Hooray! I feel a champion myself! (*) for me!

www.imdb.com/title/tt5331532

Bevergem – ***(*)

Posted: November 22, 2019 in 2015, Comedy, Flanders, XXX1/2

On Netflix. Not sure in all regions. But on Netflix!

Check it out if you can.

A famous stand-up comedian on the run arrives in a small little village. The local chairman of the Social Services is looking for a scapegoat for the fishy business that he is in and offers him a place to stay, above the local thrift store. The comedian accepts and gets to know the weird characters of this community. He even becomes their confidant and adviser.

Flemish humor can be really absurd, ironic and sarcastic. This show has it all. The greatest irony of the movie is that the main character, the foul-mouthed Freddy De Vadder, who made a career out of playing a marginalized lower than low class nitwit, is actually the most sane, sensible and smart character of the show. The local references are plenty, so it’s probably hard for non-Flemish people to get the jokes. The depiction of the characters however is spot-on. They are exaggerated versions of people you may know. If you want to understand West-Flemish culture, you need to watch this. But you may need a manual.

The absolute star of the show is the chairman, the kind of attention seeking amateur politician who thinks he’s a real hot shot, but who really is a dumb alcoholic. His wife doesn’t allow him back in the house, so he sleeps in his garage. She’s excellent as well. Her quotes have become classics. Another great character is the former manager of the thrift store, who quit her job after she won the lottery. But it doesn’t help listing all the characters…. they are all quite unique and pretty much excellently performed by all of the cast.

It’s a great comedy with some surprising visuals and a great soundtrack. Very original, yet very recognizable. It was even funnier the second time around.

www.imdb.com/title/tt3826290

Studio Tarara – ***

Posted: March 26, 2019 in 2019, Drama, Flanders, TV series, XXX

Rare these days (at least for me): watching a tv series unfold every single week. No binge-watching. Just anticipating the next episode. Eight weeks long.

And it was worth the watch. This was good television. With a lot of flaws, but enough positive moments to balance them out.

The set up is simple. Someone fell to his death at a television studio, where a live sketch show was being recorded. It’s unclear until the very last episode who the actual victim is. But in every episode you learn who is still alive, as a second story line follows a detective who’s writing down the taped interviews of all people involved.

The mystery of who the victim is and how the person died, isn’t all that exciting. As a thriller, the show fails.

The series is about the production of a funny sketch show and the troublesome lives of its creators. The drama and characterization are top-notch. But the sketches aren’t funny! At all. So as a comedy, the show fails as well.

But another storyline focuses on sexual harassment at a television studio and throughout the series this is the main theme. It’s also the one that makes the show fascinating. The acting is really good. Even international audiences may like these performances.

It’s still a very Flemish show though. Not sure if people abroad will get the references. There is an international trailer though… The story is set in 1993 though and the soundtrack is incredible. It’s very interesting to hear the big alternative hits of that year as a soundtrack to a story set at the tv studio of the most commercial television network.

www.imdb.com/title/tt9839222

After having watched Free Solo, the Oscar-winning documentary about a free climber who goes up El Capitan in less than four hours without ropes, made me rewatch this episode from a popular Flemish tv program, in which the adventurous presenter takes on the challenge to climb El Capitan without previous climbing experience.

Unfortunately there are no English subtitles, so not everyone can watch it. There’s some conversations in French and English as well, but the main language is Flemish (the Dutch spoken in Belgium).

The tv series has varied challenges ranging from very physical (entering a national body building competition) to very silly (creating a chart topping sing along song). Not all episodes are good and in the end, it’s entertaining television, with a lot of things being fixed.

But this is the most fascinating episode. Even when things are fixed (that we don’t get to see), it’s still very impressive.

Somehow, the guy from Free Solo isn’t really relatable. Tom Waes on the other hand  is the total opposite. The drive he has to just succeed in everything is amazing. But he is also super honest about his fears and his frustrations. He swears all the time, sighs constantly, doubts a lot… He has a good sense of humor too. You want him to succeed. You want him to climb El Capitan. No matter in how many days.

The cool thing is that you actually learn something about climbing as well. And not just about techniques, but also about how people sleep, eat and … shit when they’re climbing up a rock wall. Tom also has a sports cam on his head so the views are spectacular.

The team of professional climbers who escort/guide/make it easy for him, is also great.

Somehow this impressed me more than Free Solo. 

www.imdb.com/title/tt6038326

Eigen Kweek Season 3

Posted: February 14, 2019 in 2018, Comedy, Flanders

This is terrible. The first episode is still kind of okay, but it’s incredibly difficult to keep watching this until the end. The charismatic loser from the first season has become one of the most annoying tv characters of Flemish history. And he’s in almost every single scene. The humor is simple, predictable and repetitive. The drama is ridiculous. The action is still kind of fun, because it’s absurd. But that doesn’t save these six episodes from being a bomb. The first season was refreshing. The second season a disappointment. The third a total failure.

Girl – **

Posted: November 6, 2018 in 2018, Coming Of Age, Drama, Flanders, France, LGBT themed, XX

Lara is a teenager with some serious issues. She wants to be a ballerina and is admitted to a ballet school, but lacks the experience of other girls in her class. She is also born in the body of a boy and is about to start a hormonal treatment to finally become a woman. These two ambitions are just too much for a sixteen year old. Becoming a ballerina is already very tough. Becoming a woman is even tougher! Doing both at the same time just isn’t particularly healthy.

Girl is an award winning box office surprise about a serious issue that’s getting more and more media attention. It’s a movie worth watching and it’s filmed really well. But it’s a challenge. You never really get to know the main character. It’s an emotionless being with an aloof smile that is hard to read. It’s interesting because this robotic performance is intentional. It’s like the director wants the audience to not understand the character at all. Halfway through the movie there is a medical specialist who literally tells the main character to stop hiding emotions and start showing them. The psychologist doesn’t seem to be able to reveal thoughts and feelings either. Nor does the father. Or the class mates. Or anybody. This is one mysterious character. Which is quite intriguing and unique. Plus: the camera just follows this main character from upclose.

However, because the character doesn’t give anything, you’re just left wondering. And then the appreciation of this movie all depends on how understanding you are willing to be when it comes to transgenders. It’s very easy to think: boy, just embrace your femininity, wait until you’re an adult to make drastic decision about changing your gender and focus on something else than becoming a ballerina. But that’s not really the point of the story. Girl is the kind of movie that leaves plenty of questions unanswered. Which is great in a time when movies seem to be over-explanatory. But some background info about the character would have been nice.

In recent news (end of 2018) Tanzania is hunting down all gay people and the American government plans to invalidate the existence of transgenders by making it only legal to be a man or a woman based on how you were born. And then there’s this movie, which only shows a little bit of incomprehension or disapproval. The father is super supportive. The doctors are doing their utmost to help with the transition. In school none of the boys have an issue with the fact that one of the girls they need to lift in ballet performances has a penis. The girls initially also don’t seem to mind at all. It’s confusing. The world does not accept transgenders as well as portrayed in the movie.

www.imdb.com/title/tt825455

Niet Schieten – ***

Posted: October 21, 2018 in 2018, Belgium, Drama, Flanders, XXX

On November 9th, 1985 several people got shot at a local supermarket in the Flemish town of Aalst. It was the last of a series of attacks that were allegedly done by a gang called ‘De Bende van Nijvel’ (in Dutch) or ‘Les Tueurs de Brabant’ (in French). After all, this happened in Belgium, the bilingual mess it is.

Thirty-something years later, they still haven’t figured out who this gang is and the victims of the attacks still haven’t received any financial help whatsoever. It’s a disgrace.

A young boy survived the attack. He saw how his parents and sister were killed. He saw one of the attackers, but was never questioned by any authority. He himself was shot and learned how to live with a disability. He was raised by his grand-parents who lived across the supermarket and also had some important information that could have been investigated more thoroughly.

That kid, became a man who wrote a book about his struggle and the frustration about the failure of the justice system. That book has now been made into a movie. It’s a good one. It’s well-directed and very well acted. The main character isn’t the boy (played by three different actors at three different periods in their life), but is the grandfather, played by one of our best actors: Jan Decleir. He’s phenomenal. The movie is quite captivating and doesn’t shy away from showing the actual killing. It’s never sensational though and it’s brought with a lot of respect to the victims. Some emotions are told by images rather than dialogue, which works great.

By the end of the movie though, the frustration felt by the characters also transfers to the audience. This is a story without an end. A crime without a punishment. A killing without a murderer’s name. This isn’t Hercule Poirot solving a crime. This is a family learning to accept that they will never know who took the lives of their beloved ones. There is no happy end here.

Watch it. And feel upset and angry. That’s exactly the goal of this movie.

www.imdb.com/title/tt7534314