First Night: Belgium (02/11/2016)
First of all, thank you to all that attended the first night of the Cinemas of Europe's Small Nations event, hosted at The Phoenix, Exeter.
The event opened with introductions by the organiser, Dr. Jamie Steele, followed by a video introduction by filmmaker Jonas Bloquet regarding his film The Unexpected Taste of Apple, and the feature film, Black (El Arbi and Fallah, 2015).
Beginning with Belgium, the Cinemas of Europe's Small Nations film event received 47 submissions from Belgium over a period of three months, with each film considered by the organiser upon entry/ submission. The section was, therefore, a competitive field, which owed to significant levels of funding to short films in Belgium (some were funded by Wallimage/ CCA) and the well-regarded film school system in the country. This was particularly telling by the level of animations received by the event (Brussels is home to La Cambre - a highly regarded and respected school that specialises in animation).
I felt that The Unexpected Taste of Apple (Jonas Bloquet) was concomitant with Bloquet's earlier work as an actor in Joachim Lafosse's Élève Libre (2008), which (broadly) deals with systematic abuse of a teenager by his private tutor (who retains a level of guardianship over the boy [played by Bloquet]). Bloquet's character no longer lives with his parents, and there are fleeting visits only from his mother. My monograph (forthcoming) considers Lafosse's private trilogy in detail and the difficult issues that his films tackle. Bloquet's short film screened at this event considers a teenager's loss of innocence. The scars on the back of the young female character speak of previous abuse. This perhaps constitutes a reverberation from Lafosse's work. Bloquet's short video introduction (very gratefully recorded specifically for the event) noted the theme of child abuse that underpins the film. The film tackles these issues in a more metaphorical way - the scars on the young female back, the desire to consume (at times, candied) apples and the tormenting of Lucas by older members. The final shootout is again perhaps metaphorical of the need/ desire on behalf of the characters to take control back from others in society. Lucas (played by Bloquet) delivers a telling line to this end.
The second part of this event constituted the screening of the feature film Black (El Arbi and Fallah, 2015), which, I would argue, is one of the most important films to be produced in Belgium. The film articulates cultural differences between the gangs, as well as representing the tensions of a riven Belgium – between French, Flemish and diasporic communities. In The Guardian, the two filmmakers discuss the racism and prejudice that they suffered during their teenage years, emphasizing that perhaps it is even worse now than in 1995 when Kassovitz produced La haine (Rose, 2016). Reviews have drawn comparisons between this film and a global corpus of work – with the strongest comparisons generated with Diasporic French films, particularly La haine (Kassovitz, 1995). Discussions following the film's screening prompted comparisons to City of God (2002) due to the preoccupation with gangs and gang violence on the outskirts of a major city. Comparisons were also made to segregation of minorities in the USA.
I felt that it was important to include the film as part of the programme due to its difficult release in Belgium and France. Whilst the filmmaker posit that the film was merely banned in France, it is more complex and nuanced than that. The terror attacks in France (November 2015) and the film's potential to encourage small race riots in Belgium prompted a toned down release in France (Belgium's largest export market - see Steele, 2015 - 'Towards a transnational regional cinema: the francophone Belgian case study'). The release was more focused online (as reported in Le Figaro and Le Monde). The ability to give this film a platform was thus a motivating factor in including the film as part of the curated content section.
I look forward to next week's focus on Wales and The Library Suicides...
Photos to follow soon...