New Flemish film takes on themes of biblical proportions


Director Kristof Hoornaert’s feature debut is a quiet meditation on the cruelty of mankind, with characters that are hard to forget

Talkin’ bout a Resurrection

Kristof Hoornaert did not follow the time-honoured path to making your first feature film in Flanders. He dropped out of film school – two of them in fact. He refused to make shorts because his ideas “are just too big”.

From rural West Flanders, he moved to Ostend, where he worked in numerous factories and began to write scripts. The first to be made is Resurrection, and it opens in cinemas tomorrow.

It’s been a 14-year-process for Hoornaert, who is the first to admit that the film is not easily marketed. When submitting applications for funding, “it’s all about the script,” he says. “But the script is not the film. It’s difficult to translate words on paper into a visual experience.”

He did break down and make three short films while waiting for a funding break. They were screened at more than 40 festivals around the world and won several awards.

Eventually, he and his producer received the funding they needed by getting two important people on board Resurrection: Doyen of Flemish actors Johan Leysen (Souvenir, The American) and Lithuanian director of photography Rimvydas Leipus, who has worked on other Flemish films, including Khadak and N: The Madness of Reason.

As it turns out, those professionals were crucial to the creative side of the movie as well. Hoornaert (pictured below) doesn’t use the term “visual experience” lightly: This is a film with photography that requires a big screen. “The whole film is a poetic expression where images speak. The images tell a different story than the narrative,” he says.

Silent running

The narrative is easy to follow, though the film contains very little dialogue. A young man commits a horrific crime and is found at the edge of a forest, much the worse for wear, by an elderly man, who offers him food and shelter in his run-down farmhouse.

When the older man – haunted by a past he has taken great pains to escape – learns what the young man has done, he must make a decision. The young man (both characters are nameless) doesn’t help his own case much, as he refuses to utter a word.

It’s a simple enough story, but the imagery suggests greater, even biblical, themes. “I’m very aware that it’s not easy for most people to read images,” says Hoornaert, 37. “They’re not used to it. In most movies, everything is about the story, everything is explained.”

I’m aware that it’s not easy for most people to read images. In most movies, everything is explained

- Kristof Hoornaert

In Resurrection, “it’s not about the story, it’s about the subtext,” he says. Leysen’s lonely old man “has withdrawn himself from an evil civilisation for many, many years, and now he is confronted by it again. What do we do with the cruelty of man and of civilisation? He realises he cannot escape it. It’s everywhere.”

Two actors are required to carry the movie, and while it’s easy to imagine that Leysen can do so – the scene in which the camera rests on his face for a full minute as he hears the truth about his lodger is gut-wrenching – it’s harder to imagine Gilles De Schryver as the intense and volatile younger man. But having shaved off the trademark golden locks he’s sported in movies and TV series that have left him hopelessly typecast (Hasta La Vista, Code 37), he’s nearly unrecognisable in both looks and character.

For those who are indeed invested, Resurrection is a film that pays in spades; it’s a picture-postcard of the human condition: fear, anger, solitude, catharsis.

“My goal was to start a conversation, and the best way to do that is to stimulate the audience to reflect and to think and to invest themselves emotionally,” says Hoornaert. “So when the film is finished, they take it home with them and think about what it means. That’s why the form is so important. That’s cinema.”

Resurrection (★  ★  ★  ☆) opens tomorrow across Flanders and Brussels. Hoornaert will talk about the film at several screenings over the next few weeks