Ben Van Alboom selects 10 Belgian cult classics

Launching our brand new monthly series Favourite Belgian Movies, we asked De Morgen’s chief of culture and Red Bull Elektropedia co-founder Ben Van Alboom to dissect and explore his cinema archives. The result being a list of ten essential cult classics enough to make any film buff drool. Here’s next week’s evening activities all lined up. You’re welcome.

1. C’est arrivé près de chez vous – Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel & Benoît Poelvoorde – 1992

Yes, you’re right: not much of a surprise here. Quite honestly though, anyone who doesn’t put this one in his list either deserves to be shot or forced to watch every Marc Punt movie twice a day, for the rest of his life. I could tell you about how legendary and genius it is, but I’d rather share an anecdote: in high school, I curated an annual film screening after having complained to the principal about him only showing Nikita Mikhalkov movies. I mean, Urga is great film but we were fifteen – give us a break! So after that, I also got to pick a movie each year. “Carte blanche!” They didn’t mind me opting for Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia the first year, or Tom DiCillo’s Living in Oblivion the second year, but after I took my fellow teenage students to see C’est arrivé près de chez vous (or Man Bites Dog, as it is called in English), the entire school was back to watching Nikita Mikhalkov – solely.

With Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel & Benoît Poelvoorde

2. L’enfant – Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne – 2005

I remember seeing this one in Cannes, leaving the theater completely depressed, and thinking ‘dude, this is even better than Rosetta and Le fils’. L’enfant counts so many scenes that I – to this day – remember so vividly because they shook me to the core. So many raw emotions, so much (in)humanity. Despite heavy competition from Michael Haneke’s Caché and David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, the Dardennes deservedly took home their second Palme d’Or for this absolute masterpiece.

With Déborah François, Jérémie Renier & Olivier Gourmet

3. Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y – Johan Grimonprez – 1997

I picked this one for its title, and for the fact that it’s one of the most mind-blowing documentaries I have ever seen. It’s supposed to be about the good ol’ days of plane hijackings but, in truth, it’s really about what’s happening in the world today, with Trump in the White House and literally everyone in a frenzy. Only it was made twenty years ago, and it mostly talked about the 80s. So I guess that means nothing ever changes.

4. Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles – Chantal Akerman – 1975

How many Belgian movies have ever gotten not one, not two but – over several decades – three reviews in The New York Times? Only one: Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. You’ll forgive me, then, for simply quoting NYT film critic Manohla Dargis on this one: “I think of it as something of a domestic horror movie, in which the house and the occupant are equally haunted”, Dargis wrote two years ago, upon hearing Chantal Akerman had passed away. “From its first shot to its last, Jeanne Dielman grips you with its blunt compositions, creeping sense of dread and Ms. Seyrig’s exacting, mannequin like poses and ambiguous deadpan.”

With Delphine Seyrig, Jan Decorte & Henri Storck

5. Violet – Bas Devos – 2014

Widely ignored when it was released, yet few Belgian debut features have ever been more ambitious, more self-confident, more intense and more gorgeously shot by Nicolas Karakatsanis. It’s like watching an early Gus Van Sant movie, in Belgium.

With Cesar De Sutter, Raf Walschaerts & Mira Helmer

6. De man die zijn haar kort liet knippen – André Delvaux – 1966

Maybe I should have picked ‘Un soir, un train’ or ‘Rendez-vous à Brai’ – two other André Delvaux masterpieces – but there is something unique and out of this world about this Johan Daisne adaptation, about an older man’s obsession for a beautiful girl. Belgian cinema never came closer to Lolita.

With Senne Rouffaer, Beata Tyszkiewicz & Hector Camerlynck

7. Calvaire – Fabrice Du Welz – 2004

It’s completely bonkers and insanely gory but, as Peter Bradshaw pointed out in The Guardian, it’s also ‘a brilliant black comic nightmare about a singer, conceived in the style of Deliverance and The Hills Have Eyes’. If that doesn’t convince you, you’re officially more fucked up than the movie’s director.

With Laurent Lucas, Brigitte Lahaie & Gigi Coursigny

8. The Sound of Belgium – Jozef Devillé – 2012

I stalked Jozef Devillé for years – literally – to get a sneak peek at his documentary about Belgian club culture. But he kept saying it wasn’t finished. To be honest, I was just curious. I didn’t know Jozef, so I wasn’t expecting much. Then, when he finally showed it to me – still unfinished – I was so blown away by it that I immediately got on the phone with Film Fest Gent, urging – or obliging – them to show the movie. A couple of months later, The Sound of Belgium’s credits rolled at Film Fest Gent – despite the fact that the film still wasn’t finished – to the sound of a deafening applause. The rest (including the fact that the movie’s producers at some point threatened to throw Jozef under a double decker bus if he didn’t finish it) is history.

9. Jan zonder vrees – Jef Cassiers – 1984

Recently, Ghent’s brand new record label STROOM made Alain Pierre’s almost surreal soundtrack available on vinyl for the first time. But this animated cult film also very much needs to be seen. Made on a shoestring budget, its unique style is influenced by the Old Masters, and its storytelling is amazingly tight and entertaining. With 382 times more money, this would have been a classic across the entire universe.

With the voices of Jan Decleir, Jef Burm & Dora van der Groen

10. La jouissance des hystériques – Jan Bucquoy – 2000

I thought about ending my list with Jan Bucquoy’s Camping Cosmos – only to casually mention I did one of my first movie interviews for it, with Lolo Ferrari. But then I remembered another one of his movies, which really surprised me at the time: La jouissance des hystériques. It’s this weird faux documentary, in which the director casts women for his new movie, all the while trying to seduce them, analyzing capitalism and calling for a revolution. Unfortunately, it’s apparently so obscure these days that you’ll have to settle for Camping Cosmos after all. But if you do find it on DVD: buy it!

With Jan Bucquoy, Marie Bucquoy & Noël Godin