Geoffrey Enthoven's films offer humor, drama

BRUSSELS — Belgian director Geoffrey Enthoven has stayed true to the name of Fobic Films, the production company he set up in 1999 with film-school contemporary Mariano Vanhoof.

His pix keep returning to the fears of contemporary life, from family breakdown to growing old, even if the intent swings between comedy and serious social drama.

Proof of his popular touch will be seen on Belgian TV screens this fall. He is one of the main directors of “Sara,” the Flemish take on “Ugly Betty,” made by the Belgian branch of Fremantle Productions.

Big screen success was a bonus for Enthoven’s first two features. His debut, the French-language “Les Enfants de l’amour” (Children of Love), was made for TV but received a surprise release in Belgium and abroad after winning the audience award at the 2001 Ghent Film Festival. Shot handheld, with a revealing false documentary sequence, the film follows three children passed between divorced parents over a weekend.

The helmer switched to his native Flemish for “Vidange perdue” (The Only One), a comedy about a pensioner who refuses to live life in the slow lane despite his advancing years. The project was among the winners of Faits Divers, a competition for new writing and directing talent thought up by Belgian TV company VTM. It was picked up by distributor Cineart, went on to win the national critics’ award for best Belgian film of 2006 and toured international festivals.

Enthoven is the only director to return in the second round of Faits Divers, whose five winners have been shooting this summer. His entry is “Happy Together,” a serious drama about an affluent family who are ruined by a bank fraud at the moment they buy a dream holiday home in Italy.

“It’s about how the head of the family copes with not having money any more, and how he protects his family,” Enthoven explains. “It’s also about how people perceive the happy family, and the role played by social status.”

With Kinepolis Film Distribution already on board, he’s happy that a theatrical release is assured. “Now I can think for the big screen,” he says with some relief.

A third of its e750,000 budget (just over a $1 million) comes from VTM, a third from the government’s Flemish Audiovisual Fund and a third from the Tax Shelter, a scheme that gives Belgian companies a tax break if they invest in film or TV productions. Shooting over 22 days in August and September, it’s expected to be released in February.

According to producer Vanhoof, the success of “Vidange perdue” has also opened up possibilities for Fobic to expand. He is looking to begin four or five new features in the next two years, with Enthoven and script collaborator Jacques Boon as well as other directors and screenwriters.

First in line for Enthoven is an adaptation, “Prooi van een bezeten liefde” (Prey of an Obsessed Love), a darkly comic autobiographical novel by the Flemish actor Eddy Vereycken about being stalked by a prostitute. Vanhoof hopes to complete financing next summer, to shoot the following winter.

Before that Enthoven expects to shoot another comedy, this time for producer A Private View. “The Over the Hill Band” will be about three grandmothers who start an R&B band.

Faits Divers is having an unexpected impact on Flemish cinema. Four of the seven features commissioned in the first round were picked up by theatrical distributors and figured among top local earners in 2005 and 2006.

VTM seems to be justified in thinking that there is a public appetite in Flanders for local stories, told in an accessible way.

The other directors in the second round of Faits Divers are less experienced than Enthoven, most making their first features. Subjects range from romantic comedy to horror.

“These first-time directors know that this is a chance they have to take, so they put all their energy and talent into their films,” Vanhoof says.

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