The brightest moments of Belgian film

The more developed cinema of France attracts Belgian cineastes, and just as Georges Simenon became a French writer and Jacques Brel a French singer, many film professionals - director Jacques Feyder, screenwriter Charles Spaak and many actors, among others - have contributed to the successes of the leading European cinema.

The list of less well-known European cinema traditions certainly includes Belgian cinema. While some other similar “small” cinemas had their fifteen minutes of glory a long time ago, such as Croatian animated films, Belgium, which is one of the most prosperous world countries, is only now going through those stellar moments. After 110 years of film, a few months ago a Belgian film, The Child by the Dardenne brothers, received the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.

The problem is that Belgium is a country with a limited market and American commercial films prevail in Belgian movie theaters, as is the case in so many European countries. Moreover, the yearlong struggle of Belgian cinema seems to have exhausted the audience; the film The Son, by brothers Dardenne, acclaimed in Cannes, went unnoticed in Belgian theaters.

However, the story of competition does not end there: Belgium is a French- speaking country and many films from other francophonic countries are competitors. In addition, the more developed cinema of France attracts Belgian cineastes and just as Georges Simenon became a French writer and Jacques Brel a French singer, many filmmakers - among others director Jacques Feyder, screenwriter Charles Spaak and many actors - have contributed to the successes of the leading European cinema.

Moreover, here is a specific characteristic: Belgium is a dual language country, and the domestic market is divided into Walloon and Flemish parts - each with as many inhabitants as live in Croatia. Even if we multiply the number of Croatian film lovers by two, we do not get a great result.

However, Belgium is one of the most developed countries in terms of its economy and culture. It has been a center of European culture ever since the time of the famous Flemish painters, and in spite of all its aforementioned troubles, it has had some influence on film history. In fact, some of the pioneers and improvers of film technique, such as E. G. Robert, Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau and Grimoin - Sanson worked in Belgium. Three months after the famous screening by the Lumières in Paris, one was held in Belgium. There have been movie theaters in Belgium since 1904, and film production began there as early as 1906. In 1921, the first Belgian film studio was built. Production of films at that time was scarce but by 1927 things changed dramatically and Belgian film became important throughout the world. It was then that the winds of avant-garde swept over Belgium and two fathers of Belgian art film emerged - Henri Storck and Charles Dekeukeleire. They created original documentary and experimental films and still stand out as quality authors of the esoteric, which seems to work very well even for small cinemas. Even today, most successful Belgian films are about something domestic and peculiar; it is what makes it special and different from everything else. In the land of Van Eycks, Bosch, Breughel and Rubens there emerged a special type of documentary essay film about painting. This happened in the 1930s and 1940s thanks to the works of André Cauvin and Paul Haesaerts.

Better days for Belgian feature film began only after WW II when, because of the general film affirmation and its later New wave phases, there emerged many institutions that helped develop and financially support filmmaking. In Belgium today, there is a rich modern film theater, several international film festivals, and a film school and institute. Since 1963, there have existed national funds for film (Flemish and Walloon as well as shared ones). Film production is growing and these days there are sometimes more than twenty films a year. In addition, it is encouraging that co-productions are often made (one of them was the Oscar winning film No man’s land). In this context, talented directors and high quality films have emerged. Belgian films often portray its contemporary themes as well as important historical events, but they usually seek to show something that is unique to Belgium. As is characteristic of the land of René Magritte and the fantasy writer Jean Ray, there are films by directors such as André Delvaux and Harry Kümel that interweave fantasy and reality. All in all, in spite of all crises and unsolved obstacles for further development, in recent years Belgian film has received more and more international awards (such as the aforementioned Grand Prix in Cannes) as well as Oscar nominations. Maybe one day we will be able to tell a story in which there will be no more financial difficulties for making films, with Belgium as its protagonist.
(Ante Peterlić)