Sand, surf and spiders
A few people in Ostend are praying for rain this weekend, because nothing kills a good film festival in Flanders like balmy weather. Though that’s a rather appropriate temperature to view Flemish director Patrice Toye’s atmospheric Little Black Spiders, where teenage girls loll about the forest, napping, sharing stories and playing games. It sounds idyllic, but, much like Toye’s last feature, (N)iemand, paradise isn’t always what it seems.
Patrice Toye’s new feature opens the Ostend Film Festival
In Little Black Spiders, which opens the Ostend Film Festival this Friday night, 16-year-old Katja (a wonderful Line Pillet) is driven to a castle-like estate in the middle of the Flemish countryside. She climbs a very long fire escape to reach the attic, where a number of other girls are living.
It’s 1970s Flanders, and Katja has arrived, in fact, at a hospital, where underage pregnant girls are spirited away to await the birth of their babies. Katja, herself an orphan, has every intention of keeping her child, but she soon finds that the directors of her secret ward have other intentions.
Little Black Spiders is based on actual events in the Maria Middelares Hospital in Lommel, Limburg province, in the 1970s and ’80s, in which babies were offered to adoptive parents without the consent of the mothers. Girls were taken over the border to France to give birth, where all records were wiped out.
“When I heard about this a few years ago, I was so amazed by it that I first had to work through it, let it sink in,” says Toye. “The story wouldn’t let me go. I had to tell it.”
Features not to miss
At the other end of the life spectrum is death, which is at the heart of Alps, the third feature by Greek director Giorgos Lanthimos, one of the European masters of absurd situations (Kinetta, Dogtooth). Alps is the name of a company made up of four people who hire themselves out to “sit in” for a person who is newly deceased. Mechanically reciting phrases the person used to say and acting out past family scenes so survivors can alter the outcomes, it’s meant to be therapeutic. Alps is for those who like their comedy blacker than black.
Barbara, from German director Christian Petzold, is a whole different scene – a perfectly claustrophobic drama about a doctor banished to a rural village after caught trying to leave 1980s East Berlin. Nina Hoss (Yella) is brilliantly understated as a woman torn between trying to escape her suffocating environment and her attraction to a colleague in this winner of the Silver Bear in Berlin for direction.
Another excellent choice is Benito Zambrano’s La voz dormida (The Sleeping Voice), an adaptation of the best-selling novel by Dulce Chacón. The winner of three Spanish Goyas, it tells the story of a pregnant woman sentenced to death for her part in the Resistance in 1940s Madrid. And it’s your first chance to see Cannes’ Grand Jury prize-winner Reality by Matteo Garrone (Gomorra), in which the mildly criminal but happy-go-lucky family man Luciano becomes obsessed with getting on Italy’s version of Big Brother.
Film fest besties
The Ostend Film Festival is also working with this month’s Namur International French Film Festival and with the Netherlands Film Festival (in Utrecht) to screen three films from each. Your best bets of these are Belgian director David Lambert’s Hors les murs (Beyond the Walls), which follows a gay couple in Brussels from first encounter to possibly bitter end, and Kauwboy, a solid family drama about a boy whose mother has left and whose father is distant and depressed. You’ll also find a revival of the Dutch classic Antonia on the programme.
One of the nicest aspects of Ostend’s fest is its habit of showing a locally made short before every feature. Look out especially for Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels’ Oh Willy, Roman Klochov’s Natasha and Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah’s Broeders (Brothers).
Finally, another Ostend gem is the Master Selection, a group of films chosen by the festival’s host, which this year is the radiant Flemish actress Barbara Sarafian (Aanrijding in Moscou, Rundskop). She couldn’t have made a better choice for this movie-goer; her list is full of both exploitive and legendary cult classics, including Demon Seed, Midnight Cowboy and Mademoiselle. On 8 September, you can hear Sarafian talk about her favourites on the list – Badlands and Cría Cuervos – see the films and, yes, have lunch with the actress.
Kinepolis and Cinema Rialto, Ostend
The Ensors: Flemish Film Awards
The Flemish Film Awards are now called The Ensors, after the great Surrealist painter who hailed from Ostend. The jury is tasked with choosing a film that, like the work of James Ensor, holds a mirror up to society in which people can – though perhaps reluctantly – see something of themselves. The Best Film category joins 13 others with three nominees each, ranging from acting to photography to music.
Up for Best Film this year are Geoffrey Enthoven’s Hasta la vista!, Nicholas Provost’s The Invader and Nic Balthazar’s Tot altijd (known in English as Time of My Life). I would love to see Provost’s taut thriller about an ever-more unbalanced African immigrant in Brussels run away with this top prize, but I sense the jury might lean towards one of the other more crowd-pleasing nominations. Here’s hoping they prove me wrong.