The paradox of Belgian cinema
by Anne Feuillère
It has thus been a historic year for Belgian cinema: Flemish cinema performed better than ever and the 2003 record of 1,048,280 admissions for Flemish films was outstripped by audience figures of 1,197,487 (see news). But therein lies the paradox of Flemish cinema; made by filmmakers from the world of television and starring television actors, these films only attract the domestic audiences that they target so well. They fail to draw viewers in neighbouring French-speaking regions and they are difficult to export.
Ben X [+see also:
interview: Nic Balthazar
interview: Peter Bouckaert
film profile], adapted from a book and popular stage play in Flanders, is an exception to the rule. The film immediately drew viewers, attracted festival audiences and sold to around thirty territories.
Only two Flemish titles, both arthouse films, made it into the top 15 Belgian box office hits for 2007: Felix Von Groeningen’s With Friends Like These [+see also:
interview: Felix van Groeningen
film profile] (43,625 admissions, 11th position) and Koen Mortier’s Ex-Drummer [+see also:
film profile] ( 21,574 admissions, 14th position).
Belgian francophone cinema trails behind; the first film to claim a position in the top 15 is a majority French co-production: Les deux mondes [+see also:
film profile] (“The Two Worlds”) starring Benoît Poelvoorde (sixth place with 94,381 admissions), followed by two other minority Belgian co-productions: Odette Toutlemonde [+see also:
film profile] (in at number eight with 73,066 admissions) and Surviving with Wolves [+see also:
film profile] (9th position – 64,118 admissions).
Only two majority Belgian productions are among the top 15: Benoît Mariage’s Cowboy [+see also:
interview: Benoît Mariage
film profile] (see Focus, 32,722 admissions – 12th position) and Joachim Lafosse’s Private Property [+see also:
film profile] (26,059 admissions – 13th position).
Following in the footsteps of Lucas Belvaux’s The Right of the Weakest [+see also:
film profile] in 2006, Sam Garbarski’s Irina Palm [+see also:
interview: Sam Garbarski
interview: Sébastien Delloye
film profile] (see Focus) epitomises the contradictory fortunes of films produced in French-speaking Belgium in 2007. The title was selected in official competition at Berlin, was acclaimed by critics and sold to numerous territories, but only garnered 8,067 admissions in Belgium.
Belgian cinema thus shows the same tendencies as last year (see news) with Flemish cinema drawing its target audience and boosting domestic success while francophone cinema performs poorly at home but is lauded abroad.
However, certain factors could lead to a change in the situation. One is the emergence of a young Flemish auteur cinema, which is already attracting international attention (Koen Mortier, Fien Troch, Dimitri Karakatsanis). Moreover, there are several francophone film projects currently in production or post-production that could enable Belgian francophone cinema to reclaim viewers next year: the latest film by the Dardenne brothers, Le silence de Lorna; Vinyan by the rising star of Belgian genre cinema Fabrice Du Welz; and Joachim Lafosse’s Elève libre, among others.
(Translated from French)
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