Belgium Theater and Cinema

By | November 3, 2021


Common to the two ethnic groups of the country is, with the inevitable variations, a robust tradition of popular theater, whose origins date back to the Middle Ages and whose events, coinciding with religious festivals, flank processions of faithful in special costumes to the representation of texts often very ancient, like the Jeu de Saint-Evermar of Russon, which is repeated continuously every May 1st since 969, or the famous procession of the Holy Blood of Bruges. Widespread throughout Belgium is also the theater of puppets, marionettes or puppets, with repertoires ranging from sacred drama to fairy tales and from chivalrous novel to appendix narrative and with comic protagonists, different for each location, who are expressed in the dialect of place. As far as the cultured theater is concerned, in the Walloon provinces the usual forms of medieval drama, sacred and profane, resulted in the elaborate sacred performances staged at the court of the Dukes of Burgundy. From the seventeenth century, on the other hand, until the dramatic rebirth of the century. XIX, only the French touring companies performed or the pupils of the Jesuit colleges: Wallonia remains however, while also developing an autonomous repertoire, tributary to France, providing paintings and receiving operas and companies. In Paris, for example, Belgian authors such as M. Maeterlinck, F. Crommelynck, M. de Ghelderode and F. Marceau and directors such as R. Rouleau found their consecration. Brussels, however, has had a permanent prose theater since 1782, the Théâtre Royal du Parc, and since 1945 it has been home to a National Theater, founded by Jacques Huysmans. In the Flemish region the theater had an edifying and didactic character up to the century. XVI, with performances presented by the Chambers of Rhetoric, centers of literary and dramatic activity. Only with the detachment from Holland did the first permanent theaters arise (in Ghent in 1847, in Antwerp in 1853). However, the activity of the Flemish Popular Theater was especially important, founded in 1919 by J. de Gruyter, which presented remarkable staging of the contemporary repertoire. The situation remained more or less unchanged until the end of the 1960s. Then the protest against the official theater began here too, directed against the sclerosis of the main institutions and the banality of the repertoires of commercial companies. Particularly significant was the work of the Nuova Scena Internazionale group, founded in 1973 in Antwerp, which, following the lesson of Dario Fo, presented in circus tents politically committed performances but realized according to the techniques of the commedia dell’arte. Finally, we must remember, in the Eighties, the experiments of Jan Fabre, a visual artist who works in the field of avant-garde theater.


According to Ehistorylib, Belgian was one of the pioneers of cinema, JAF Plateau, inventor of the phenachistoscope in 1832, and Belgian by birth were several well-known filmmakers and actors who, however, moved on to work in France. At the same time, many Frenchmen worked in Belgium, starting with Alfred Machin, who shot Maudite soit la guerre there in 1913. A national film culture flourished in the 1930s thanks to the “visual” and documentary school of filmmakers such as Henri Storck and Charles Dekeukeleire., André Cauvin and Paul Haesaerts: the first specialist in the editing film, the others in the film about art. The group acted outside the commercial suggestions, for a pure cinema, in a certain sense aristocratic, of great formal value, repeatedly awarded in international festivals (sometimes also hosted at home). Storck came to the feature film only in 1951, with Le banquet des fraudeurs, scripted by Charles Spaak and starring Françoise Rosay, both Belgians. More recent is the revelation, with L’homme au crâne rasé (1966), by André Delvaux, later director of Un soir, un train (Una sera… un Treno, 1968) and Rendez-vous à Bray (1971), Belle (1973), Benvenuta (1983) and L’Œuvre au noir (L’opera al nero, 1988), all linked to existential, ambiguously surrealist and fantastic themes. Harry Kümel (Monsieur Hawarden, 1968; Malpertuis, 1972) also stands in this field, while in the social film sector Benoît Lamy stood out with Home Sweet Home (1973), on a hospice for old people and their revolt, and Marian Handwerker with La cage-aux-ours (1974). But, after Delvaux, the strongest personality is that of Chantal Akerman, linked to American underground experimentalism and standard bearer in the homeland of a “feminine” cinema as provocative as it is intense (Je tu il elle, 1974; Jeanne Dielman23 Quai du Commerce1080 Brussels, 1975; Golden Eighties, 1985; Histoires d’Amérique, 1988; Un divan à New York (A sofa in New York, 1996). As for the assault vanguard, active in the seventies, we can remember the delirious Vase de noces (1974) by Thierry Zeno, a “religious anarchist” who in 1979 returned to office with Des morts, a documentary on capital executions. And although in Belgium an animation cinema largely dependent on commercial fashions flourishes, the maturity reached in short films must still be artists such as Raoul Servais (Opération X-70, 1971; Pegasus, 1973), Gérald Frydman (Scarabus, 1971; Agulana, 1975) and Dominique Deruddère (Crazy Love, 1986; Wait for spring, Bandini, 1989). But it is above all in the Nineties that Belgian cinematography imposes itself on the international scene with new directors. Suffice it to mention Jaco Van Dormael with Toto le héros (1991) and Le huitème jour (The eighth day, 1996), the trio Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel and Benoît Poelvoorde authors of C’est arrivé près de chez nous (The cameraman and the ‘assassin, 1992), Frank Van Passel, director of the poetic Manneken Pis (The golden shoes, 1995), and Alain Berliner with the delicate Ma vie en rose (My life in pink, 1997). The growing vitality of Belgian cinema, however, is confirmed by the brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who in 1999 triumphed at Cannes with Rosetta (1999), a work awarded with the Palme d’Or.

Belgium Theater