×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Belgian directors go genre route

Films trade serious fare for commercial stories

PARIS — A few years ago, the idea of catching a Belgian film for sheer entertainment value would have seemed ridiculous to most foreigners. The Belgian film industry was renowned for its serious-minded documentaries and dour arthouse dramas. But a new generation of Belgian producers and directors, grown tired of making pics for specialized audiences, has begun to discover the joys of genre filmmaking.

For some like Jaco Van Dormael, the celebrated filmmaker responsible for “Toto the Hero” (1991) and “The Eighth Day” (1996), their new work has taken on epic proportions: Van Dormael recently finished shooting “Mr. Nobody,” an ambitious sci-fi story with a e37 million ($58 million) budget.

“It took six or seven years for me to write the script,” Van Dormael says. “I was searching for something magical, and it took me years to make all the complexities very simple to look at. I’m a very slow writer.”

A lot is riding on Van Dormael’s third feature, which easily ranks as the most expensive Belgian film ever made. Unlike other Belgian productions, Van Dormael’s film was shot in neither Flemish nor French — the country’s two dominant languages.

“The story came to me in English,” the director explains. “It’s a story set over very long distances and time frames. One of the strands of the plot is about a kid who must choose between living with his mother in Canada or his father in England. There are also some incredible English-speaking actors I wanted to work with.”

“Mr. Nobody’s” cosmopolitan cast includes Jared Leto playing nine different characters, including the world’s oldest living mortal, and actresses Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger and Linh Dan Pham. Despite the stars’ varied international appeal, the pic’s budget was raised before the cast was in place, solely on the strength of the script and the director’s name.

The pic’s French producer, Philippe Godeau, who also produced “The Eighth Day,” guaranteed half the budget through his production company Pan Europeene. The rest of the money was put up by Wild Bunch and Pathe. Wild Bunch, which is handling foreign sales, has already presold “Mr. Nobody” in Japan, with other territories under negotiation.

“Belgium is a country where the people speak a lot of different languages, so they often use images to communicate their ideas as opposed to dialogue,” Godeau says. “This means there are a lot of very interesting visual directors in Belgium.”

Belgium-based German-born director Sam Garbarski (“Irina Palm”) is currently prepping “Quartier lointain,” a $13.9 million adaptation of Jiro Taniguchi’s manga comic about a man who finds himself projected into the body of an adolescent.

“Quartier lointain,” which is being shot in French and is set in Paris in 1968, is being produced by Belgian company Entre Chien et Loup and is being set for a 2009 release. Entre Chien et Loup co-founder Diana Elbaum feels that French-speaking Belgian companies like hers are finally beginning to take creative control from France.

“Before the tax shelter was introduced (in 2003), we were very dependent on France as one of the biggest backers of Belgian films and on their creative or artistic decisions in terms of cast and everything else,” she says. “It’s still the case, but less now because we actually can come up with an amount of money which is relatively identical to the French. With Garbarski’s new film, we are going to bring close to 50% of the budget. That’s never happened before.”

Flemish-speaking director Erik van Looy made a name for himself with the genre pic “Memory of a Killer,” a psychological thriller about a hitman with Alzheimer’s disease, which was voted film of the year by Time magazine’s Richard Schickel in 2005. His latest, “Loft,” boasts an equally accessible premise.

“It’s about five married friends who share a loft where they take their mistresses,” van Looy explains. “One day, one of them enters the loft and there’s a dead girl tied to the bed. From that moment on, it’s a question of who did this and why. It’s sort of a mixture between ‘The Usual Suspects’ and ‘Bound.'”

The fact that van Looy references U.S. films as opposed to European ones tells its own story. “I’m more influenced by Coppola or Don Siegel than I am by Pedro Almodovar or Wim Wenders,” he says. And the love affair works both ways. Several recent Belgian films, including “Memory of a Killer,” “Science Fiction” and Oscar nominee “Everybody Famous,” have had their remake rights picked up by U.S. production companies.

And though van Looy was courted by Hollywood after “Memory” sold a million tickets in Belgium, he opted to make his next film at home. “Loft,” which opens in Belgium this fall, marks the first film project from Flemish Belgian TV production company Woestijnvis, which created the successful reality show “The Mole,” a hit in the U.S. after it was sold to ABC. The producers are counting on the popular-leaning story to help deliver on the pic’s $5 million budget.

“Moviemaking is a beautiful business, but it’s also very tough work,” van Looy says. “I don’t want to make a film which will only be seen by five people in a very small theater.”

More Film

  • Kevin Tsujihara

    Kevin Tsujihara's Ouster Kicks Off a Week of Major Disruption in the Media Business

    The sudden ouster of Warner Bros. Entertainment chief Kevin Tsujihara kicked off what is likely to go down as one of the most extraordinary weeks in Hollywood history, spelling enormous turmoil and transition across the media landscape. In addition to the news about Tsujihara, which comes amid a wider shake-up of leadership at AT&T’s WarnerMedia, [...]

  • Buddha in Africa

    More than Half of Films at Hot Docs Film Festival Are Directed By Women

    More than half of the films playing at Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary festival, are directed by women, the Canadian event said Tuesday. The festival’s 26th edition, which runs April 25-May 5, will screen 234 films, with 54% of the directors being women. In the competitive International Spectrum program, notable films receiving their world [...]

  • Korean Distributors Fight for Box Office

    Korean Distributors Fight for Box Office Market Share

    Korean distributors are having to fight ever harder for their share of Korea’s theatrical market share. Threats on the horizon include a slide in the performance of local movies, consolidation, the arrival of new players and the challenge from streaming services. South Korea’s theatrical box office is now bigger than that of France or Germany despite [...]

  • Korean Distributors Learn to Downsize in

    Korean Distributors Learn to Downsize in Saturated Market

    In 2018, the Korean film business stumbled, as local films made with blockbuster budgets and targeting the usual high seasons of Chuseok and Christmas last year failed to deliver blockbuster earnings.  So Korean distributors have embraced some tactics to enhance their bottom lines.  Genre films “Monstrum,” “Fengshui,” “The Negotiation,” “Take Point,” “Swing Kids” and “Drug King” [...]

  • 'Boonie Bears' Creator Fantawild Producing 'Realm

    FilMart: 'Boonie Bears' Creator Fantawild Skews Older With 'Realm of Terracotta'

    Fantawild, the Chinese entertainment group behind the widely popular “Boonie Bears” animated franchise, is for the first time planning to target slightly older viewers with a new IP, “Realm of Terracotta.” Intended for teenagers, the adventure story is expected to hit theaters this summer. Fantawild has produced six “Boonie Bears” films in just seven years, [...]

  • Hong Kong Industry Executives Seek Clarity

    FilMart: Hong Kong Industry Executives Plead for Clarity on Mainland Chinese Tax Policies

    At a time of heightened scrutiny of tax affairs in China’s entertainment sector, even industry veterans in Hong Kong are struggling to figure out how to operate in the new financial environment and pleading for more clarity from the Chinese government. Hong Kong produces about 60 films a year, three-quarters of which are typically co-productions [...]

  • IQIYI Plans Summer Release for Animated

    IQIYI Plans Summer Release for Animated 'Spycies'

    IQIYI Motion Pictures, the film production and investment arm of Chinese streaming leader iQIYI, will release animated feature “Spycies” in China this summer, and overseas shortly afterwards. “Spycies” is a Sino-French co-production – a rarity as far as animated films are concerned – and the first animated film that iQIYI has co-produced with foreign filmmakers. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content