Christophe van Rompaey • Director
by Boyd van Hoeij
13/10/2008 - While the film-making skills of the Belgian Dardenne brothers have been widely appreciated and even influential, Flemish films were long considered orphans, especially on an international level. But the tide is turning. Moscow, Belgium [trailer], a working-class romantic comedy set in the homonymous Ghent neighbourhood, was selected for the Critics’ Week in Cannes, and has been sold to over a dozen countries. Cineuropa spoke with director Christophe van Rompaey in Cannes.
Cineuropa: Why do you think the film appeals to people from all over the world?
Christophe van Rompaey: Everybody has someone in their family or circle of friends who has been through similar situations in life. Relational and marital problems are as old as the world; a man having an affair, a woman of a certain age who suddenly finds the love of her life, but who first has to come to terms with her past. These are universal and recognizable problems for everyone. The actors have to convince the audience that their tragedy, laughs and romance are genuine… that is why I cast the best actors in Flanders instead of the most well-known ones.
While the story was created by three men [two screenwriters and the director], the women are better off in the film than the men. Would you say it is a feminist film? I never thought about it in that way. Matty’s husband Werner and the lorry driver Johnny are flawed men, yes, but they are not complete losers. It is more nuanced than that. Though it is true, come to think of it, that it would be possible to read the film in a feminist key, especially when we consider the secondary characters such as Matty’s daughter and people such as the old-age pensioner at the post office and the police officers.
Everything was shot on location?
All the interiors scenes in Matty’s flat where shot on location. We were about 30 people in that flat, with Barbara, who plays Matty, acting as the mother of both cast and crew. It is actually quite funny, because Jean-Claude, the screenwriter, and Johan, who plays Matty’s husband, both grew up in that building. It was important to have those huge windows and that view onto the motorway, which also provides that constant background noise. You can’t recreate that in a studio. Everything was filmed in and around that block of flats, we never left the neighbourhood of the title.
How do you see this new wave of successful Flemish films?
For a long time, people have associated Belgian films only with French-language films. The only Belgian directors known abroad were the Dardenne brothers. But in the last couple of years, Flemish films have become box-office hits at home; the only thing missing was international recognition, but that is changing now, too. It is important that people get the opportunity to make a first film, which is something that is slowly starting to happen. And at festivals, people have started to become curious about Flemish films, which is great.