Little Baby Jesus of Flandr: In praise of faith
by Vitor Pinto
After last year’s hit The Misfortunates [+see also:
interview: Felix van Groeningen
film profile], it is now up to 24-year old director Gust Van den Berghe to defend the vitality of new Flemish cinema at the 42nd Directors’ Fortnight. Although presented only in the second day of the prestigious Cannes sidebar – and although there is still so much to see – Van den Berghe’s Little Baby Jesus of Flandr [+see also:
film profile] has the potential to be one of the most challenging films in this year’s line-up.
Where does that potential come from? Probably from the fact that Little Baby Jesus is not a conventional final-year student project but an ambitious work. Not in terms of budget but concept: the film is adapted from the play by Flemish author Felix Timmermans and features mentally disabled leads.
Alternating between long landscape shots and several close-ups of the main characters, the films follows Suskewiet, Pitje Vogel and Schrobberbeeck, three beggars who decide to sing Christmas Carols to earn some money. On their way home they get lost in the woods, they play the three wise men following the star and witness what they believe to be the birth of the Baby Jesus (what if He was born in Belgium after all?).
If we add that the film is shot in black and white (except in one single coloured sequence that actually seems taken from a different film due to its flamboyant nature), that might bring to mind Albert Serra’s second feature Birdsong (2009 Directors’ Fortnight). Yet comparisons between the two end there.
While Serra’s camera was an ironic one, Van den Berghe prefers to submerge his film into a mystical atmosphere. He seems to uphold the need to believe in something. Faith is therefore the key word of the film: faith in God, Man, nature and even materialism (one of the characters ends up selling his soul to the Devil). Above all, faith also in the fact that it’s possible to make a film for under €60,000 and still attracts Cannes’ attention, as producer Tomas Leyers of Minds Meet said at the film’s press conference.
The actors’ Down’s Syndrome was a challenge for Van den Berghe, who cast them at the Stap Theatre and was advised to present them as he would any other actors. “We had a long script but we could not look upon it as a law. We had to remain open to changes and to their improvisation”, said the young director. He already has in mind two upcoming films, which will complete a triptych begun with Baby Jesus: “The form and the story of these two films will be very different but will have something in common that seems to me the most important thing in the world: humanity”.
Minds Meet, the outfit that presented Lost Persons Area [+see also:
film profile] in Cannes last year, backed the film initially conceived by for the Brussels-based Erasmus Hogeschool Rits and is also handling international sales.
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