On February 28, the long anticipated feature film Belgica by Felix Van Groeningen premiered in his hometown Ghent. Fans and industry were all eager to watch this semi-autobiographical feature film, although he claims that none of the film’s aspects are based on true events and that any resemblance is coincidential. Van Groeningen grew up in Charlatan, a bar in Ghent on which Belgica is based.
Belgica is Felix van Groeningen’s latest and already 5th feature film (He was nominated for an Oscar with The Broken Cirle Breakdown in 2012) The film is about 2 brothers, Jo (Stef Aerts) and Frank (Tom Vermeir), who own a bar together called Belgica, where things get out of hand and they slowly, but clearly lose themselves in sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.
First of all, the cast displays some of van Groeningen’s favourites, like Titus De Voogdt and Johan Heldenberg as supporting actors, but had leading parts in some of Van Groeningen’s earlier work. Stef Aerts and Tom Vermeir, who play the 2 brothers, are a perfect match, which makes their performance so much more authentic as if you they were really related.
When it comes to credibility and authenticity of his films, Van Groeningen is the ‘Master of Drama’. Belgica is entirely spoken in the Western-Flemish dialect, and it’s hard to distinguish the Western-Flemish actors from the others, like Stef Aerts, who is actually from the very east of Antwerp (Turnhout). The natural acting of the entire cast makes it hard not to sympathise with both brothers and experience how they get swept up in the Belgian nightlife. We’d like them to succeed so badly, that we cannot have mixed feelings when Frank, the oldest brother, seems to be torn apart between the Belgica and his wife (a part performed by Groeningen’s real life partner Charlotte Vandermeersch) and son. Belgica is a story about chaos, and perfectly directed chaos is what you get.
Belgica‘s biggest asset is definitely its soundtrack composed by the famous brothers David and Stephen Dewaele A.K.A. Soulwax.They came up with 15 vibrant and at times unsymphonic songs by fictitious bands, like The Shitz with its charismatic lead singer Davy Coppens (Boris Van Severen). All these are performing bands in the film. The Dewaele-brothers went the extra mile for this one by composing an eclectical mix of different genres ranging from acoustic rock to electro. Honestly, although not all the songs were my cup of tea, I really looked forward to the Belgica-afterparty. The music is very promising and in perfect balance with the narrative structure and atmosphere.
In addition, very remarkable is Van Groeningen’s use of colours. Whenever the party in Belgica is on, the colours are as vibrant as the film’s soundtrack, but grey and dull colours seem to take over once the mood is less optimistic, or when the scene is set at home instead of in the brother’s favourite ‘place of destruction’.
Film technically, Felix Van Groeningen has built up his own band of brothers throughout the years consisting of producer Dirk Impens (The Broken Circle Breakdown, De Helaasheid der Dingen,..), cinematographer Ruben Impens (idem), screenwriter Arne Sierens (Dagen zonder Lief) and his editor Nico Leunen (who also did Ryan Gosling’s Lost River in 2014) and their co-operation is not without impact. Van Groeningen is by far Belgium’s most influential director of his time in narrative and visual style.
Check the website of Belgica for more info and pictures.