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Belgium -- Land of the Film Fans
by Birgit Schrumpf

Even though cinema-going flourishes in all of Belgium, it is an especially popular activity in Brussels. The mainstream cinema scene in the capital is dominated by the mega UGC and Kinepolis chains with their multi-screen complexes, which show films in their original language version with French and/or Dutch subtitles. The majority of films for children are dubbed. In addition to the major cinema chains, there are a great number of smaller arthouse cinemas dedicated to presenting Belgian and world cinema.

During the 1990s Belgian cinema finally took flight in gaining international prominence with such films as Man Bites Dog (with Benoit Poelvoorde), Daens (directed by Stijn Coninx) and Rosetta (directed by the Dardenne brothers). In 2000, Dominique Deruddere's Everybody Famous! was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Belgium also annually hosts several film festivals, the most important among these the Flanders International Film Festival in Ghent.

Compared to Germany with 82 million people, neighbouring Belgium is a small country with some 10 million-odd inhabitants. This parliamentary kingdom boasts three official languages: Dutch, French, and German, plus a handful of regional dialects. Films are always shown in the original language, often with subtitles. I am intrigued by the diversity of films coming out of this small country with Brussels not only the capital of Belgium but the capital of the European Union.

The following Belgium films were shown at this FilmFest Hamburg: The Vampire Party (Luxemburg, Belgium, France), Wall to Wall, Eldorado, Cut Loose, Happy Together, and Missing Persons.

Two Belgium films at the Filmfest Hamburg impressed me by painting two extremely different (as in opposite) pictures of the country; in fact, they don’t even speak the same language. Happy Together is filmed in Flemish (Dutch) and Eldorado in French. Both languages are officially spoken but preferably in their own provinces. Brussels, the capital, is situated in the predominately Flemish speaking Northern part, but the language actually spoken by the inhabitants of Brussels is mainly French. I have meanwhile learned that there is also a German-speaking minority of about one million living in a small part in Eastern Belgium that need to be counted too. Are you still with me?

The only thing the two films in question have in common is that both script writers claim to have been inspired by actual facts. Happy Together introduces us to a smooth and ambitious man in his best years with his good looking wife, living in a tidy and modern house. Two well-groomed children join them at the dinner table where healthy food is served. Affluent friends are around or are met at garden parties. Small talk is flowing easily. Life is so good, or so it seems.

In Eldorado we meet a not-so-well-dressed, overweight loner whose best years are behind him. His home is an untidy mess. Any enthusiasm for his job or life in general has long gone. Cheap meals are taken at the road house. His meeting with another lost character, a desperate drug addict breaking into his house, brings some diversion. He even takes an interest in the lad. But life is not so good.

I was amazed: Is this the same small country we are looking at?