Belgian pics make headway at fest

There are safe ways of making a name for oneself, and then there’s the route Flemish tyro Gust Van den Berghe chose to take instead. After rebelling against his school’s rule that you finish with a short by making a feature instead, Van den Berghe’s graduation project “Little Baby Jesus of Flandr” earned the helmer a student film prize last December.

Five months later, the film is in Cannes with a slot in the Directors’ Fortnight, thanks to a push and a polish from producer Minds Meet (here last year with “Lost Persons’ Area”). An unlikely mix of improbable elements, the pic concerns a group of beggars who have a religious encounter while traveling the countryside in winter. Source material is a 1924 Christmas play by unfashionable Flemish author Felix Timmermans, interpreted through a cast of disabled actors and Van den Berghe’s B&W cinematography.

Also in the Directors’ Fortnight is “Illegal,” the sophomore effort from French-speaking helmer Olivier Masset-Depasse. Pic tells the story of a Russian woman (Anne Coesens) living illegally in Belgium with her 13-year-old son, facing expulsion despite being integrated into society.

Films Distribution is handling sales. Producer Versus made Masset-Depasse’s debut “Cages” and is also home to Joachim Lafosse and Bouli Lanners.

The only other majority Belgian pic to be favored is Flemish short “Iceland,” by Gilles Coulier, which is a Cinefondation selection.

Belgian producers also have a hand in competing films “Un Homme qui cri” (Entre Chien et Loup), “Hors la loi” (Novak Prods.) and “Copie conforme” (Artemis Production).

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