After attending the film festivals Offscreen, BIFFF and Cannes earlier this year, I had the chance to be invited to the Brussels Film Festival which specializes in European cinema. Usually, when I go to a festival, I try to see as many films as possible. Things have been so crazy around here lately that I had to slow down a bit on the movies this time. Actually, I spent most of my time at the festival hiding away in the quiet corners of the Flagey cinema to get some work done.
During my first day at the Brussels Film Festival, I watched Miss Violence. I was looking forward to this Greek film since it was awarded the Silver Lion for best direction at the Venice Film Festival, but it wasn't as good as I'd hoped. Miss Violence was the kind of film where everyone did a lot of staring and where silences lasted long enough to make you check your watch. Only in the last section of the film, once the family secrets were revealed, did the pacing pick up and did the movie become somewhat interesting.
Next on the program was the French film The Kidnapping Of Michel Houellebecq (L'enlèvement de Michel Houellebecq). In case you wouldn't know, Michel Houellebecq is a famous French author known for his wayward style and personality. In this film, in which he plays himself, he's abducted by gangsters. Hellbent on receiving the best possible treatment, Houellebecq starts asking for little favors such as a lighter, a book, better wine, and a woman to spend the night with. And, of course, he gets what he wants, because his kidnappers are too star-struck to deny him these favors. The Kidnapping Of Michel Houellebecq bears the mark of the author's wit and style. And while the film may not be as brilliant as his books, it was original and laugh-out-loud funny.
During my second day at the Brussels Film Festival, I went to see the French film Bird People. A guest and a maid at an airport hotel dream of freedom, of leaving behind their current lives. Both will get that freedom in their very own way. Despite a few misses (such as an unnecessary and irritating voice over that luckily lasts only a minute or two), I found Bird People to be irresistible, especially its honesty, fleshed-out characters, recognizable dialogue, and weird but cute ending.
I also managed to watch a batch of short films at the festival. The first one was Lilith by Maxim Stollenwerk. I met Maxim at Offscreen, and his dedication to the craft made me curious about his films. That devotedness shows. For a guy who's still in school, Lilith is professional and polished, showing signs of a profound cinematic knowledge. If he can pull off this level of quality with so little experience, I can only imagine how excellent his future films will be.
Albertine, from my friend Alexis Van Stratum, is about an 81-year-old woman who's isolation after her husband's death is shambled when a neighbor offers to help her with a broken lamp. As always, Alexis' short film is recognizable, classy, and beautiful. Why this guy isn't a household name yet is a mystery.
Other shorts I saw at the Brussels Film Festival were: Cadet from Kevin Meul (interesting story in which a father pushes his 13-year-old son to be the best in his sport, but instead brings out the worst in him), Les corps étrangers from Laura Wandel (not sure what point the director wanted to get across), José from David Mutzenmacher, Alexandre Bouchet and Gaetan Liekens (I'm sure the three directors had as much fun making this film as the audience did watching it), and De Honger from Benoit De Clerck (visually stunning).