Seuls: Short Work 2’
Wed 14 Apr 2021, 19:30
PART OF Seuls. Singular Moments in Belgian Film History, Sabzian
  • A collaboration between Sabzian and Avila

On April 14th at 19:30 CET, Seuls: Short Work 2’ will premiere on Avila, a short film programme compiled by Sabzian. This selection is an adaptation of the second Seuls short film programme, organised by Sabzian in 2018 and screened at the KASKcinema in Ghent. Seuls. Singular Moments in Belgian Film History is a series of film programs accompanied by the publication of unique texts by Belgian filmmakers and writers on Sabzian’s website.

This film programme offers three films by directors who played a key role in the Belgian surrealist movement. Ernst Moerman was associated with the Paris surrealists, wrote plays and produced one film, Monsieur Fantômas (1937), in which a criminal mastermind, dressed in a dinner jacket, violates mores during his search for the beautiful Elvira. Luc de Heusch was an ethnologist and filmmaker who produced a variety of artist portraits, including Magritte ou La leçon de choses (1960), a film about the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte, in which pictorial and cinematographic images interact and contradict each other, generating an interplay between the works of art and the way they are staged by the filmmaker. Marcel Mariën was not only an adventurous intellectual who spent time in various surrealist circles, but also a devoted admirer, interpreter and sometimes artistic partner of René Magritte. Mariën's film L'imitation du cinéma (1960) provoked controversy when it was released in 1960 due to its suggestive linking of erotic images with a pseudo-religious story about a man who develops a desire to be crucified, including a casual adventure with a prostitute.

Filmmaker, cinema and Zen teacher Konrad Maquestieau once typified Belgian cinema anti-conformist: "This country harbours a tradition in which individuals, completely unrelated to each other, manage to make films in the most idiosyncratic way. Films that do not conform to any norm, regulation, school, fashion or theory. Their images are unique. The 'tradition' is characterised by independence, diversity, subjectivity, daring, inventiveness, audacity, and humorous subversion. Here, the inexhaustible imagination is central." The name Seuls ties in with this; it brings into focus a film culture consisting of a kinship between soloists who explore all possible mechanisms of imagination.

To celebrate this special occasion Sabzian and Avila are offering the first 250 coupons for free. When the limit of coupons has been reached, the film programme will still remain available on the Avila-platform. The online premiere is free and available for viewing in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The films with dialogue are always available with Dutch, French and English subtitles. The programme will be accompanied by articles in several languages.

Introduction by Steven Jacobs, art historian specializing in the relationship between art and cinema:

Seuls. Singular Moments in Belgian Film History is a series of film programs accompanied by the publication of unique texts by Belgian filmmakers and writers on Sabzian’s website. It is often said that cinephiles don’t know or are rarely appreciative of their own national cinema. Film critic Adrian Martin “observe[s] a very intriguing dimension of cinephile thought: namely, the usually feisty way it negotiates a fraught relation with the cinephile’s own national cinema. Indeed, I sometimes think I can spot a cinephile by the intensity of their hatred for their national cinema.” With this series of film evenings, Sabzian aims to chart the wayward landscape of Belgian cinema with images, sounds and words, by means of an affectionate countermovement.

Monsieur Fantômas and Magritte ou La leçon de choses were digitized by CINEMATEK, the Royal Belgian Film Archive. 
Magritte ou La leçon de choses is a part of the catalog of the Storck foundation.
L'imitation du cinéma is part of collection of Province of Hainaut, stored at the BSP22 centre in Charleroi (BE).
With the support of the Flemish government

Monsieur Fantômas

“Everything is light-hearted and lovely in this film, with intertitles few in number but nevertheless worthy of Tzara or Breton”

Dominique Païni


“The rather obscure figure of Ernst Moerman is, if possible, even more eccentric. He is described by his friend, writer Robert Goffin as ‘an extraordinary person, with poetry expressing itself in every gesture of his life’. Moerman, who was born in 1897, died at age 46 in 1944. An absolutely passionate surrealist, his life was not only short but quite uneven – he ended his days living in a caravan. Like [Henri] d’Ursel, he too was close to the Parisian surrealist group in the 1920’s, and there he became a close friend of the poet Paul Eluard. In fact, Eluard’s Capitale de la douleur (1926) – heavily quoted in Jean-Luc Godard’s noirish sci-fi film Alphaville (1965) - is visually quoted in Moerman’s one and only film: Monsieur Fantômas


Moerman’s film was shown for the first time by the Cercle du Cinéma, a left-wing film society in Brussels, at the Palais des Beaux-Arts on October 12th, 1937. Monsieur Fantômas was screened on the same programme as Buñuel’s Un Chien andalou, which seems a good choice as both films have elements in common. First of all, they are both consciously immoral acts of savagery, partly sadistic, partly intellectual satires, with religion and love as their two main objects of attack. It is self-evident that both of them can be described as furiously anticlerical – Buñuel and Moerman were well-known for their virulent, lifelong anti-clericalism. But whereas Monsieur Fantômas proves to be a satirical indictment of the church in the style of a parody, Buñuel’s critique goes way beyond that, emerging as something considerably more merciless. In the case of Moerman’s film, Raymond Borde asserts that its anticlericalism comes from an ancient tradition in Belgian culture, from the famous medieval Carnival at Binche to the works of James Ensor.

Santiago Rubín de Celis1


Je ne sais pas très bien qui je suis.
Mes questions, dans le ciel, semblent
Et tout le monde a l’air si pressé ici.

Pourquoi ferais-je comme eux?
Ma place est réservée, dans la mort.

« Mille ans de la vie d’un oiseau » de Ernst Moerman


« Trop de gens confondent encore la poésie et les vers, la poésie et un recueil de poèmes. Constater qu’il ne viendra plus à l’idée de personne d’entrer chez un libraire pour y acheter un volume de vers et en conclure que la poésie n’intéresse qu’une infime minorité, est une erreur. Il serait plus sage de se demander si, présentée sous une autre forme, elle ne réussirait pas mieux à reprendre dans le cœur de tout homme la place que, secrètement, il lui a toujours gardée. »

Ernst Moerman2

Magritte ou La leçon de choses

An artist's portrait of the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte in a didactic narrative form. Magritte’s works are shown in a series alternating with images of the artist at work or during his daily activities, while his ideas are commented on by a voice-over. As in Magritte's paintings, parallels are drawn between objects, their representation and their referent words. Pictorial images and film images interact and contradict each other, generating an interplay between the works of art and their staging by the filmmaker.


Magritte ou La leçon de choses can be situated in this tradition of films showing the artist at work. But in the case of Magritte, ‘work’ acquires a meaning quite different from the exploration and celebration of manual and physical labor evident in the films on Picasso, Pollock, or the COBRA artists. ‘I did not show Magritte as a technician of painting at all because this is senseless,’ de Heusch wrote. For de Heusch, Magritte is not a painter but ‘un imaginier, an image maker.’ He further notes that in the film Magritte himself states ‘that a painting is annoying (emmerdante) to make’ and that he was ‘only interested in the final product. It is on that image with Magritte that the entire screenplay was made.’ In contrast with de Heusch’s films on COBRA painters or the famous film portraits of Pollock or Picasso created in the 1950s, the Magritte film does not contain any action as there is no “action painting.’ The first stroke on the blank canvas, a moment that is so emphatically present in most films showing artists at work, is completely absent. Instead of creating paintings from scratch, Magritte seems to find himself in front of paintings that are already finished – something that tallies perfectly with his flattened paintings that do not display any signs of the handling of paint.”

Steven Jacobs1


“Net zoals de schilderijen van Magritte kan de film van de Heusch ‘educatief’ of ‘didactisch’ worden genoemd – een omschrijving die vaak aan kunstdocumentaires wordt toegedicht. De film bevestigt de didactische conventies van het genre: we zien een soort diashowachtige opeenvolging van kunstwerken, al dan niet in close-up, die worden afgewisseld met beelden van de kunstenaar aan het werk of tijdens zijn dagelijkse bezigheden, terwijl zijn ideeën door de voice-over worden becommentarieerd. Maar de film van de Heusch is tegelijk complexer en ambigu. De educatieve dimensie kan immers als een commentaar op de kunst van Magritte worden gezien, in het bijzonder op zijn zogenaamde ‘woordschilderijen’, waarin de woorden vaak in een schools lettertype zijn neergezet. De Heusch maakt overigens zelf ook gebruik van opschriften in een dergelijke schoonschriftstijl – veelzeggend is een shot van het woord ‘donc’, dat een soort gevolgtrekking en een causale of logische opeenvolging van shots suggereert. Net als de woorden en beelden in het werk van Magritte zijn de didactische elementen in de film verraderlijk, aangezien de filmmaker in de surreële logica van de schilder tracht binnen te stappen. Zoals in de schilderijen van Magritte, lijken voorwerpen, hun representaties en de woorden die ernaar verwijzen naadloos in elkaar over te vloeien. Het filmmedium voegt hier nog een extra laag aan toe, doordat de beelden van Magritte op hun beurt in beeld worden gebracht. Picturale beelden en filmbeelden interageren en spreken elkaar tegen. Zoals vele schilderijen van Magritte, reflecteert de film van de Heusch op de contaminatie van verschillende werkelijkheidsniveaus en hun representaties, en op de verhouding tussen dingen, beelden en woorden.”

Steven Jacobs2


« A cette volonté du peintre de couper l’image des structures habituelles du langage et de la pensée, correspondent dans le film des traits d’invention narrative (le jeu de société), des trouvailles de mise en scène (comme ces travelings arrière qui, par découvertes successives, remettent sans cesse en cause notre vision des choses), tout un jeu adroit de miroirs, de mirages, qui dérange la superposition entre le monde normal et son reflet dans le langage ou sur la toile: heureuse mise en valeur du travail de Magritte, qui restitue avec invention et fidélité l’esprit même de sa tentative. »

Michel Flacon3


« En 1961, Luc de Heusch réalisera La leçon des choses, film par lequel il invite Magritte lui-même à donner une leçon sur sa démarche picturale et plus particulièrement sur le gouffre qui sépare les mots et les choses. Même si Magritte se révèlera peu satisfait de cette tentative, le point de vue du film impliquant qu’il soit un film sur le surréalisme plutôt qu’un film surréaliste, La leçon des choses reste un document digne d’intérêt. »

Olivier Smolders4 


« Michel Foucault a écrit de fort jolies choses sur cette tension dialectique entre le mot et l’image chez Magritte. Son texte a été publié bien après la réalisation du film, mais je me permettrai de l’évoquer car il pourrait aider à éclairer mon propos cinématographique. Foucault propose d’interpréter le célèbre « Ceci n’est pas une pipe» comme un calligramme défait. Un calligramme, vous le savez, est une figure composée avec des lettres, de telle sorte que l’écriture et le dessin ne font qu’un. Le tableau de Magritte serait un calligramme dénoué et-ou défait, dans la mesure où le texte, remis à sa place, détaché de l’image, la nie. Cependant les mots font partie du tableau, ce sont donc des images de mots, ils ne composent pas une légende; au contraire, ils retirent à l’image de la pipe son évidence de pipe. Nous voici donc en plein trouble. Le film s’achève par l’évocation d’un second désordre du langage. Le tableau s’intitule « L’art de la conversation ». L’on y voit deux personnages minuscules murmurant on ne sait quoi, alors qu’un démiurge mystérieux a inscrit un mot, le mot « rêve », dans une construction de pierre chaotique. Or, nous savons que Magritte n’est pas un peintre du rêve. Ce mot qui échappe, en quelque sorte, à toute épaisseur s’inscrit, en lettres de pierre. Ici, dit Michel Foucault, à juste titre, les choses forment leur propre mot dans l’indifférence des hommes. »

Luc de Heusch5


René Magritte during the shooting of Luc de Heusch’ "Magritte ou la leçon de choses"

L’imitation du cinéma

“Onlangs werd een verachtelijke en beruchte film vertoond in het Paleis voor Schone Kunsten in Brussel op het initiatief van de ‘Ciné-Club de la Jeunesse’ voor een veeltallig publiek van jonge mensen en jonge meisjes. De film in kwestie is een heiligschennende parodie van het christendom, doordrongen van een obsceniteit die elke verbeelding tart. Wij hopen dat het parket de noodzakelijke maatregelen zal treffen om deze schandaleuze film, een beschaafd land onwaardig, uit circulatie te halen.”

La centrale catholique, 1960


« Un film ignoble et infâme vient d’être présenté au Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles sous les auspices du « Ciné-Club de la Jeunesse » devant un nombreux public de jeunes gens et de jeunes filles. Le film en question est une parodie sacrilège du christianisme mêlée d’une obscénité qui dépasse toute imagination. On espère que le Parquet prendra les mesures nécessaires pour mettre hors de circulation pellicule indigne d’un pays civilisé. »

La centrale catholique, 1960


“But perhaps a term like ‘transgression,’ defined as the breaking of rules or exceeding of boundaries does not completely cover the overtones. Most theories of transgressions argue that rule and transgression in practice are strongly complicit, in the sense that transgressions do not so much seek to abolish the rule as to temporarily suspend it, and that rules already inscribe their violation (Jenks, 2003). To only speak about Mariën’s work in terms of transgression, seems then to be missing the point and neglect the light, often pun-like humor which disarms the violence inflicted by transgression. As we saw, Mariën seems more interested in moving between two terms, or following a side-track, than with the actual crossing of boundaries.


lndeed, humor operates as a device to de-route the binary confrontation of rule/ taboo and transgression. It traces an altogether line, a line of flight, which is more affirmation than negation. Where transgression ohen operates against the public by scandalizing or repulsing it, humor only succeeds by grace of an audience.”

Mieke Bleyen1


Today, Easter of this holy Year,
Here, in the basilica of Notre-Dame in Paris,
I accuse the Universal Catholic Church of the mortal hijacking of our living energies to the profit of an empty heaven;
I accuse the Catholic Church of piracy;
I accuse the Catholic Church of having infected the world with its mortuary morality,
of being the canker sore on this decomposed western civilization.
Verily I say unto thee; God is dead.
We puke up the agonizing insipidness of your prayers,
because your prayers have so generously manured the battlefields of our Europe.
Go forth into the tragic and exultant desert of this land where God is dead,
and run your naked hands through the earth again,
your proud hands,
your hands free of prayer.
Today, Easter of this holy Year,
Here, in the basilica of Notre-Dame in Paris,
we proclaim the death of the Christ-God in order
that Man might live at last.

Marcel Mariën2

  • 1. Mieke Bleyen, Minor Photography. Connecting Deleuze and Guattari to Photography Theory (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2012), 58.
  • 2. Address from Notre-Dame by Marcel Marien, delivered by Serge Berna and Michel Mourre Paris, April 9 1950.