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The Decade's Best Belgian Movies So Far

The Decade's Best Belgian Movies So Far

Picture of Haig Arslanian
Updated: 10 January 2017
Belgian cinema is booming this decade. In addition to hosting a flourishing film festival cycle, the country’s film industry has released two Oscar-nominated feature films in the past five years. Here is a list of the five best Belgian films of the 2010s.

Kinshasa Kids (2012)

The story takes place in the streets of Kinshasa. Eight Congolese children, played by exceptionally talented child actors, are rejected by their respective families as they are accused of witchcraft. Abandoned and left to their own devices, these children decide to take their lives into their own hands by starting a music group. Marc-Henri Wajnberg cleverly chose to direct this feature film as if it were a documentary in order to capture the true spirit of Kinshasa, and by doing so approaches near-reality. Congolese music supports the plot. The film contains a few funny scenes, but is also extremely poignant at times. Kinshasa Kids allows the audience to discover a rich and colorful world with its own set of challenges and difficulties.

Illégal (2010)

Olivier Masset’s llégal is a fantastic achievement in Belgian cinema. The gripping plot tells the story of an illegal young Russian woman named Tania (Anne Coesens), who came to live in Belgium with her 14 year old son. When she gets caught, Tania desperately attempts anything she can to remain on Belgian soil and stay united with her son. The movie, filmed over-the-shoulder, provides a sense of realism. It draws attention to the life of immigrants who are often rejected by governments and unwelcome in many societies. This film captivates the viewer through its brilliant exploration of migration issues and the challenges of being kept in detention.

Oxygen (Adem) (2010)

Although it is Hans Van Nuffel’s first full length movie, Oxygen is expertly directed. Lucas and Tom (Stef Aerts) are two siblings suffering from chronic cystic fibrosis, a hereditary incurable disease that makes each breath difficult to take. When Lucas dies during a lung transplant, Tom, a teenager at the time, befriends 30-year-old Xavier (Wouter Hendrickx), who is also waiting on the same donor list. Thanks to Xavier’s insights, Tom realizes that their short lives can and should be enjoyed. Hans Van Nuffel succeeds in captivating his audience by telling a beautiful story about overcoming the fear of death and highlighting the major role played by loved ones in helping maintain the will to survive. It is an inspiring movie that encourages perseverance in the viewer. Unbelievably realistic, with very convincing actors and artistic scenes that make you think about the value of life, Oxygen is not to be missed. In one word, breathtaking!

The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)

Directed by renowned writer and director Felix van Groeningen, and featuring the beloved Veerle Baetens in the role of Elise and Johan Heldenbergh in the role of Didier, The Broken Circle Breakdown was definitely meant to be a success. It was love at first sight for the two main characters, who have different beliefs, but share the same passion for bluegrass music. However, when their daughter develops cancer, their passionate relationship is threatened. The director unquestionably succeeds in translating what was originally a theater play into a heartbreaking movie with an incredible soundtrack supporting the plot and underlining the prominent emotions felt by the characters. The movie cleverly uses its soundtrack to stimulate two opposing emotions: the sensation of feeling good and the sadness that overwhelms after a poignant tragedy. It literally brings tears to your eyes. The experience is so profound right to the end of the movie, that any viewer will want to watch this film over and over again.

Bullhead (Rundskop) (2011)

The story presents the life of a Flemish cattle farmer, Jacky (Matthias Schoenaerts), involved in questionable deals with the local mafia. Jacky boosts his cattle with illegal steroids, before injecting himself with these drugs. The doses, lethal for other human beings, turn him into a massive and furious beast. Although Director Michaël R. Roskam uses confusing flashbacks to reveal Jacky’s mysterious past, and the pace is sometimes overly slow, the movie remains a must see for the intense atmosphere Roskam is able to create and Schoenaerts’ incredible performance. The actor, who built some 27kg of muscle mass for the role, fervently depicts Jacky’s intense inner pain. Jacky, behind his strong and charismatic appearance, is insecure and vulnerable, broken by a childhood drama. This two dimensional aspect gives such intensity to the plot that the audience awaits the moment Jacky will explode into a powerful fury. Nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language Film category, Bullhead is truly a masterpiece in Belgian cinema.