“Dode Hoek” (Blind Spot) – Nabil Ben Yadir

Dode Hoek (or Blind Spot) is a Flemish thriller by Nabil Ben Yadir (Les Barons, 2009 and La Marche, 2013 ) shot in Antwerp, Brussels and Charleroi. Although Ben Yadir himself speaks French, the film is Dutch, with only scraps of French and Arabic. The director from Molenbeek even includes jokes about Wallonia, that will make the Flemish audience laugh out loud.

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Director Nabil Ben Yadir

 

The film tells the story of the extremely persistent, violent and uncompromising Jan Verbeeck (Peter Van den Begin, known from e.g. King of the Belgians), who leaves his job as chief of the Antwerp drugs squad to become a fulltime politician in the extreme right political party VPV. On his last mission for the drugs squad, his private life gets thrown upside down by things from the past. A drug addict informant (David Murgia) turns out to not be who they thought he was. In an interview Jan Decleir, who plays the chairman of the extreme right VPV, called Dode Hoek a generic example of a thriller, in which destiny decides how it ends.

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Dode Hoek stars some big Belgian names. For example Ruth Becquaert (Clan), who plays the new female chief after Jan Verbeeck, and Mathijs F Scheepers (Zot van A) as Verbeeck’s spokesman. Officer Ruud (Bert Haelvoet, known from De Helaasheid der Dingen) is an extreme example of loyalty to an individual, but he’s also simply despicable when it comes to moral and political justice. His opposite is officer (Jurgen Delnaet, known from Halfweg), who besides loyalty to the police force also embodies justice and honesty. Eventually, in my opinion, the strength of this film lies in its cast, moreover, in the outstanding acting performance of Soufiane Chilah (Black, 2015). His character Dries (written in the Flemish way and not like the Moroccan Driss) is even more political than Jan Verbeeck’s, who is like a father figure to him. Dries constantly rejects his cultural background and admits his identity crisis as a Moroccan in a police force. He explains this by his personal experience of not belonging by referring to the quartiers (boroughs), where they call him “schmetta”, which is Arabic for coward. On the other hand, in the police force, he will always be the “makak”, which is a dysphemism, or racist term, for Moroccan immigrants. Peter Van den Begin’s acting is flawless as always, but as a relatively new face in the Belgian cinema, Soufiane Chilah really blows you away.

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Unfortunately, the scenario of Dode Hoek is rather weak and sometimes incoherent, which may confuse the audience. On the contrary, it does leave you asking yourself some moral questions about racism, populism and media influence. A bit like Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah’s Image (2014).

To end this review positively though, I would like to point at the film’s beautiful visuals. DOP Robrecht Heyvaert (Black, D’Ardennen, Everybody Happy,…) proves himself a professional every single time. He provides Dode Hoek with lovely dark and mysterious establishing shots to set the atmosphere. The shots are also perfectly framed and full of alternating camera perspectives. So If you go and watch the film, pay close attention to the visuals.

Dode Hoek is in theatres across Belgium on January 25th.

“La La Land” – Damien Chazelle

La La Land is a musical drama directed by Damien Chazelle, whose last film Whiplash (2014) already had several awards nominations. This latest masterpiece though already won 7 Golden Globes, which turned La La Land into one of the most expected releases in Europe in 2017.

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La La Land tells the romantic story of a jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who falls in love with an ambitious and aspiring young actress Mia (Emma Stone) in LA. The film is the perfect example of a typical musical, which I will point out throughout the rest of this article. Normally, musicals are a matter of love it or hate it, nonetheless, you don’t have to be a fan of the genre to love this one. In my opinion, La La Land is the best commercial musical since Across the Universe (Julie Taymor, 2007) or Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, 2001). The soundtrack is composed by Justin Hurwitz (Whiplash).

The film has a realistic plot, but fantastic visuals. Typical for the genre is that song sequences are less realistic and resemble dreams or fantasy. In real life nobody would be dancing on clouds, right? The film is visually very bright and colourful. A green, yellow, blue and red dress in a pink sky background in one frame is not even extraordinary in this film. This adds up to the general mood and feel-good experience of the audience.

La La Land follows the typical three-act structure with a setup, confrontation and resolution. The couple’s biggest enemy are their own ambitions. Sebastian wants his own jazz bar, Mia wants to become a famous Hollywood actress. But when one of them builds out his or her career their relationship goes wrong. Will they settle for love or will they eventually choose for their professional ambitions?lll2

What I noticed straight away is the remarkable composition of the cast. The main actors are Hollywood’s finest, namely Gosling and Stone, and then there’s J.K. Simmons, who also performed a very significant role in Chazelle’s Whiplash. All the other actors are lesser known faces to the mainstream audience, but they most definitely are professional singers and dancers, what counters the mediocre singing performance of the two main actors. It’s even almost awkwardly funny to hear Ryan Gosling sing. By the way, some of you will also recognise the American singer and musician John Legend as Sebastian’s bandmate Keith. Gosling and Stone look like a perfect match, resembling the 30’s icons Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in their dancing.

After 7 Golden Globes (Best Motion Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Original Song and Best Original Score) film critics expect La La Land to be among the big names at the Oscars this year. Fingers crossed!

La La Land is in theatres across Belgium on January 25th.

NB: By the time this article is online, they announced the Oscar nominees. La La Land is nominated for 14 Awards. La La Land therefore holds the same record as Titanic (James Cameron) in 1998.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pdqf4P9MB8&t=6s