Review: Le Ciel Flamand (2016)

Le Ciel Flamand (2016)

Directed by: Peter Monsaert | 112 minutes | drama | Actors: Sara Vertongen, Wim Willaert, Esra Vandenbussche, Ingrid De Vos, Isabelle van Hecke, Tom Ternest, Naima Rodric, Serge Larivière, Mathias Sercu, Frédéric Gibilaro

Five years after his debut film, the Flemish director Peter Monsaert returns with the modest drama ‘Le Ciel Flamand’ (‘Flemish Heaven’). Monsaert made a big impression at the time with his first feature film ‘Offline’ (2012) and now once again shows that he is a skilled director. We see a study of life on the fringes of Belgian society, in which Sylvie (Sara Vertongen) and her mother run a brothel in West Flanders near the French border. The film mainly focuses on Sylvie’s six-year-old daughter Eline, through whose innocent gaze we get a glimpse of the fortunes of the family business. When Eline has to deal with the harsh reality of the brothel in a terrible way, all family ties are completely on edge.

‘Le Ciel Flamand’ is a sensory film, in which the camera work provides striking support for the perspective of the young Eline. The film is close to the girl’s skin and her point of view is more or less central in the first two acts. Cinematically, her perspective is at times hazy and dreamlike, and these images are a fitting visual accompaniment to the confusion the girl is feeling. As we experience her loss of innocence, we, as viewers, increasingly distance ourselves from her point of view. After a fateful incident, the story shifts more to the complex relationship between mother Sylvie and ‘uncle’ Dirk (Wim Willaert). These characters go to great lengths to protect the girl.

Although Sylvie’s controversial profession is central to the film, this character study is mainly about her perseverance and her motherhood. When the center of gravity of the film shifts to these aspects, the film becomes increasingly bogged down in a complex story about guilt and penance. Moreover, Monsaert paints a picture of a desolate and sad Flemish countryside, in which the sparkling acting performance of the young Sylvie is less and less able to express itself.

All in all, it is an admirable project where mother and daughter in particular – in real life also family – leave an excellent impression. The question is, however, whether Monsaert would not have been wise to shift its focus less. As a viewer, we lose a certain bond with the characters and that means that the final act is much less impressive than it could have been. In any case, the Flemish filmmaker confirms his status as a great promise with the work, but as a whole ‘Le Ciel Flamand’ is an ambitious quality film with flaws.


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