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FLANDERS (aka: Flandres)(director/writer: Bruno Dumont; cinematographer: Yves Cape; editor: Guy Lecorne; cast: Adelaïde Leroux (Barbe), Samuel Boidin (Andre Demester), Henri Cretel (Blondel), Jean-Marie Bruveart (Briche), David Poulain (Leclercq), Patrice Venant (Mordac), David Legay (Lieutenant), Inge Decaesteker (France); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jean Brehat/Rachid Bouchareb; International Film Circuit Inc.; 2006-France-in French with English subtitles)
“Self-important film that presumes it has something pertinent to say about the human condition but doesn’t.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It was the winner of the Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006. That doesn’t mean it’s not a clumsy, heavy-handed, unoriginal and self-important film that presumes it has something pertinent to say about the human condition but doesn’t—that war is merely an extension of normal life. French director Bruno Dumont (“TwentyninePalms”/”Humanité”/”The Life of Jesus”) films an unnecessary war story that not only looked phony in its action scenes but comes with a most gratuitous and simple-minded message—that war makes people go crazy, do terrible things and act like animals even if they know better what is right and wrong, even oafish French farmers from the sticks who enjoy a good roll in the hay when not farming and seem like regular normal types go nutso when placed in stressed-out situations they can’t handle.

Andre Demester (Samuel Boidin) is a burly, rough-hewn, uncommunicative, taciturn farmer from northern France who has been drafted into the French Army and is scheduled to go to an unnamed African country’s desert area (shot in Tunisia) to fight a guerrilla war. On his last days at home, his promiscuous girlfiend neighbor from childhood, Barbe (Adelaïde Leroux), balls him animal-like without any feelings after a walk in the woods and on his last night at home, in plain sight of Andre, takes off with Blondel (Henri Cretel), a cheery fellow she never knew before who picks her up at the bar, and sleeps with him. Blondel, due to a coincidence, has been drafted into the same combat regiment as Andre. We are led to believe that because the shy Andre has never expressed his true feelings of love for Barbe, she has supposedly turned into a tramp.

While in the service the boys experience army brutality such as fights among their own troops, a deadly ambush their patrol is trapped in while conducting a reconnaissance mission in and around a bombed-out desert villages, the gang rape of a civilian young woman by the French soldiers, and a deadly encounter with guerrillas that leads to one of the French captives being castrated and shot. The war experience brings out the worst in Andre, who shows himself as cowardly, thuggish and not loyal. In the meantime, Barbe has become pregnant from Blondel and after wasting away in the barren landscape decides on an abortion and then has a nervous breakdown and is temporarily placed in a mental hospital.

When Andre returns home after escaping captivity from the Arab guerrillas and abandoning the wounded Blondel, who is later shot in the head by the enemy, he now adjusts again to his normal farm life by turning to Barbe for some more farm animal-like humping.

The dialogue is sparse, the story is predictable, the nonprofessional acting is uninteresting and the Flemish landscape is but “a state of mind” for the filmmaker to develop his characters. The film failed to tell me a thing about human nature or war that wasn’t already told countless times in other films with a greater believability and in a less abstract way and by not deadening everything into a blunt obviousness. When arty films like this one go bad, they really go bad and reek from a pretentiousness. Any attempt to follow along Bresson’s austere trails comes to naught for the provocateur filmmaker, who reached me in some of his other films but in this one left me cold.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”