A new generation of female Flemish filmmakers sails upstream, uncompromising, truthful, like pirates of their own ships, reports Belgian film critic Freddy Sartor.
There is something afoot in Flemish cinema. Spearheaded by 30-year-old Fien Troch, director of unspoken (shown at IFFR), a contingent of young female filmmakers is making its presence felt. The premises of Troch’s remarkable films someone else’s happiness/een ander zijn geluk and unspoken may be fictional, the emotional landscapes of their protagonists are authentic and true, even when those characters find themselves in extreme situations.
In past years, Chantal Akerman, Lydia Chagoll and Marion Hänsel represented Belgium on their globetrotting travels, with idiosyncratic films with dark edges, made on different continents and set in different ages. Strong-willed and diverse, they nevertheless shared an unmistakable feminine quality.
There is a long line in Fien Troch’s wake (and she seems wholly comfortable in the role of harbinger): Patrice Toye, director of nowhere man/(n)iemand, Dorothée Van den Berghe (my queen karo), Caroline Strubbe (lost person’s area), Sophie Schoukens (marieke, marieke), Kaat Beels and An van Dienderen. With Nele Meirhaeghe and Nathalie Teirlinck (juliette), an even younger generation is already in the starting blocks. And let’s not forget Ilse Somers, Hilde Van Mieghem or Bie Boeykens. Then there are the animators: Silvia Defrance, Evelien Hoedekie and Klaartje Schrijvers. Despite their differences in age, it seems as if all these names were carried onto the shores of cinema by the same wave. It can’t have been a coincidence that the title of the first film of this generation of young female directors, their firstborn, was girl/meisje, Dorothée Van den Berghe’s portrait of a little girl lost in the big city, nearing the end of her childhood and confronted with her own self.
What can we expect of these artists, knowing that only a few of them have so far completed their first features? Distinctive, mature films no doubt, bubbling over with existential hurt. These filmmakers stir up emotions and cut a swathe through established notions of relationships between men and women, between children and their parents, and between generations. They sail upstream, uncompromising, never ignoring their own problems, truthful, always and everywhere, like pirates of their own ships.
Their protagonists are few in number — other characters function almost as background — delivering solitary struggles against no-one. They cherish their losses, functioning as fidgety islands. You may come ashore, but only at your own risk.
Being a woman is not a twist of fate, not an alibi or excuse, but a way of life. The human (or feminine) condition is the standard. They make films to exorcise their demons or, like Nina Simone, in hope of one day finding complete freedom — freedom in the sense of never knowing fear again.
They can say a lot with few means. With powerful images instead of words they dig deep, deeper, deepest. They never forgot how to struggle with themselves. Their films and their art taste of now.
Sooner or later, this oasis of talent must produce the next Agnès Varda, the next Jane Campion, the next Naomi Kawase, the next Marta Meszaros, the next Liliana Cavani or the next Lisa Wertmüller. It’s unavoidable.
The confrontation looms. "Works of art are infinitely lonely, unapproachable through criticism. Only love can reach them, embrace them and set them on their way." Rainer Maria Rilke said it as early as 1903.
Freddy Sartor studied social communication at a film and television school. Since 2005 he is the chief editor of the Belgian film magazine Film en Televisie, now called Filmmagie.