Monthly Archives: April 2016

Publications on Flemish film policy in the 1960s & 1970s and on ‘The Lion of Flanders’

The latest issue of the Dutch-language journal Wetenschappelijke Tijdingen includes my article ‘An impressive stack of documents.’ On the difficult institutional development of the film production policy in Flanders (1964-1981). This article builds further on an article that appeared previously in Wetenschappelijke Tijdingen about the events leading up to (from 1945), and the realization of, the Royal Decree of 14 November 1964 for the development of Dutch-language film culture, which led to the beginning of the systematic and selective culturally-motivated support of film production in Flanders. The new follow-up article covers the institutional development of the film production policy in Flanders from 1964 to 1981, when Karel Poma of the PVV (the Flemish Liberals) broke through the uninterrupted succession of Ministers of Culture from the CVP (the Flemish Catholic Party). After a sketch of the general budgetary and ministerial policy context, the article looks at the multiple criticisms of film production policy during this period. In response to this criticism came several diverse initiatives to structurally renew the Royal Decree of 1964. This article points out the reasons why these attempts repeatedly failed and at the same time looks at how these initiatives related to the Flemish struggle for cultural autonomy and the communitarian situation. You can read the article here.

Furthermore, I’m happy to announce my first French-language article, Le Bien contre le Mal contre Claus Le film Le lion des Flandres (1984) et le nationalisme flamand (you can read it here), which appeared in Émulations: Revue des jeunes chercheuses et chercheurs en sciences sociales. This article analyses the film The Lion of Flanders (Hugo Claus, 1984) and its complex relations with the Flemish and Belgian national question. This Flemish-Dutch co-production (in 1985 also released as a television serial) was an adaptation of Hendrik Conscience’s romantic historical novel from 1838 by the same name, a landmark within the cultural and symbolic history of the Flemish Movement. Despite various difficulties concerning the Flemish-nationalist sensitivities of the project, the producers (including the ministry and the public broadcaster of the Flemish Community) wanted the film to be as faithful as possible to Conscience’s novel. This largely resulted in an overtly romantic and Flemish-nationalist production, in spite of some counterpoints introduced by the controversial and critical but heavily disciplined director Hugo Claus. Although The Lion of Flanders was the most expensive production in the Dutch-language film history, it turned out to be an unprecedented critical and commercial failure. This article is a reworking of previous articles on The Lion of Flanders that I wrote for the Journal of Belgian History (in Dutch, read it here) and for CLCWeb (in English, read it here)


Problemski Hotel

Interview Verhulst

Yesterday, I interviewed Belgian writer Dimitri Verhulst in the Vooruit in Ghent, after the screening of Manu Riche’s recent film adaptation of Verhulst’s 2003 novel Problemski Hotel. Both the novel and the film give a disrupting view on the life in an asylum center. The realistic, raw and hard issues of misery are alternated by moments of absurd humor, which makes reading the novel/watching the film a very unsettling experience, forcing you to reflect on basic human rights and contemporary refugee politics.

problemski hotel

This event took place in the framework of a ‘project week’ focusing on diversity in its broadest sense, for first year students political and social sciences at Ghent University. (Last year, I interviewed director Kadir Balci for the same event.)


Easy virtue


During my last days in Amsterdam, I visited the exhibition ‘Easy virtue’ at the Van Gogh Museum. The exhibition, which was first at view at the Musée d’Orsay, focuses on the 19th-century depiction of prostitution in France. Visiting the exhibition is a breathtaking experience, as you become completely immersed in the fascinating nightlife of late-19th century Paris.

Left: Woman with shawl or melancholy woman, Picasso – Right: Woman washing her hair, Walter Sickert

The exhibition reminded me of reading Gajto Gazdanov’s masterpiece Night roads, in which Gazdanov fictionalizes his experiences as a Russian immigrant nighttime taxi driver in Paris during the 1920s. But the immersive experience of the exhibition can even better be compared to what I felt after watching Bertrand Bonello’s beautiful film L’appolonide (2011).


Woman at the Champs-Elysées by night, Louis Anquetin

L’appolonide opens with a woman who tells of a dream in which she welcomes a man, after which his sperm, like thick white tears, is running down her eyes, over her red lips. The opening images set the tone of the film; it will be about longing and sorrow, deeply intertwined in their fatality. The film is set in a Parisian maison close at the end of the 19th century, but the link to the present is constantly made. This is done explicitly in the soundtrack and in the final scene including contemporary images. And yet, as one of the girls puts it: Ça a changé, ça change doucement. – Comment? – Ça change doucement, c’est tout. This theme of continuation and ‘soft’ change is underscored by the stylistic features of repetition and depicting rituals.

l'appolonide.jpgStill from L’appolonide

The initial scene with the dream is followed by the opening credits, which are supported by a collage of superb black and white photographs, thereby paralleling the composition of the film: L’appolonide is a collage of fragments of the girls as individuals and of the girls as a group. Very often, the fragments that are shown are drowning in melancholia. A girl dies of syphilis, the other girls are humming, dancing and mourning – slowly. The masquerade, the fireworks we cannot see but only hear. Throughout the film, eyes are saying everything. A girl asks: if we don’t shine, who will lit up the night. Or how great cinema is always about life and about cinema.