Aside perhaps from Agnès Varda (who was born in the suburbs of Brussels but spent most of her life in France), the country’s most famous filmmaker may be Chantal Akerman. The film I’m using of hers today is a French-Belgian co-production (which as far as co-producing nations go, is a fairly common combination, as the Flemish/Dutch-language cinema is largely separate) and is actually set in Paris, but I think Akerman always honoured a certain spirit of her Belgian roots, while always making films that were ultimately her own.
Kingdom of Belgium (België/Belgique)
population 11,493,000 | capital Brussels (Brussel/Bruxelles) (179k, but 1.2m in the wider capital region) | largest cities Antwerp (523k), Ghent (260k), Charleroi (202k), Liège (197k), Brussels | area 30,689 km2 | religion Christianity (63%), none (29%) | official language Dutch, French, German | major ethnicity no information | currency Euro (€) [EUR] | internet .be
A West European country bordered by France, Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg, it is the 6th most densely populated country in Europe and is divided into three largely autonomous regions: the Flemish in the north (60% of the country’s population speaks Flemish Dutch), Wallonia in the south (French-speaking) and the Brussels-Capital Region (where French is dominant). The name comes from the Latin word used by Julius Caesar. There is evidence of prehistoric settlement, but the Belgae were the inhabitants of Northern Gaul during the Roman era; when this collapsed, it came under Merovingian rule, and the Frankish lands evolved into the Carolingian Empire. In the 9th century, the Treaty of Verdun more or less created the boundaries of modern Belgium as the Middle Kingdom, later Lotharingia, ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. A succession of European rulers eventually led to the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1814, and an independent Belgium was declared in 1830. The installation of King Leopold I on 21 July 1831 is celebrated as the National Day. The late-19th century saw imperial expansion in the Congo under Leopold II, the brutality of which quickly became an issue that led to the Belgian state to take over control. Germany invaded in WWI and WWII, and the collaborationist Leopold III was forced to abdicate. There is still a monarch and a parliamentary democracy, but political institutions are complex due to the linguistic and cultural divisions in the country.
Likewise, there are essentially two cinemas in Belgium: Flemish/Dutch-speaking and Walloon/French-speaking. The first public screening was in 1896, and the first studio founded in 1910, though the first real attempts at cinema came in the 1930s. Subsidisation in the 1960s led to a new generation of filmmakers, though modern Belgian cinema became best known in the 1990s with films by the Dardenne brothers and black comedies like Man Bites Dog.
Demain on déménage (Tomorrow We Move, 2004)
It’s fair to say that mother and daughter relationships loom large in Akerman’s work and here again we have one such, in a broadly comic vein. A mother moves in with her daughter in Paris, but they need more space so are on the market for a new flat. Rooms are ritually aired of their mustiness, fridges are opened, furnishings are moved around, little jigs are done (it’s almost a musical) and there’s a surpassing neurotic tendency to these characters’ behaviour, as befits screwball. But then again there are moments of pathos and sadness every so often and one is reminded of Akerman’s own story.
Director Chantal Akerman; Writers Akerman and Eric de Kuyper; Cinematographer Sabine Lancelin; Starring Sylvie Testud, Aurore Clément, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Natacha Régnier; Length 110 minutes.
Seen at home (DVD), London, Thursday 14 July 2016.