Black, or the Pristine Everyday

Translated by Anton Jäger

Black (Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah, 2015)

“That an artist would profit from a crime is deeply lamentable. One wages one’s life, one’s honour, simply to serve as the ornament for a dilettante. The hero itself may be a product of one’s imagination – yet, in the end, he’s still inspired by a living being.”

Jean Genet


Towards the end of his life, the Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini compiled a short survey of art and politics in post-bellum Italy. Written for the Italian mass newspaper Corriere della Sera, and later assembled for publication in a monograph, the texts later featured in his Scritti corsari (1975) and his posthumously published Lettere Luterane (1976). Both titles – tentatively translatable as ‘Pirate Writings’ and ‘Lutheran Letters’ – give an apt indication of Pasolini’s own pedagogical ambitions as a writer and artist. Pivoting between prophecy and manifesto, polemics and aestheticism, the writer directly addressed himself to a large circle of contemporaries, ranging from the Italian writer Alberto Moravia to the Christian Democratic politician Aldo Moro. The thematic range of the essays was equally broad: Pasolini treated subjects such as Italy’s recent abortion law, the rise of a consumerist outlook, and the aesthetic crisis of modern Italian cinema.

One of the most fascinating letters in the collection, written at the dawn of the seventies, saw Pasolini addressing the Italian writer Italo Calvino. The reason for Pasolini’s epistolary exchange was rather macabre. Two weeks prior, news had broken about the rape and torture of two working-class girls by a number of young men from the Italian bourgeoisie in the city of Milan – an event which had its foreseeable aftermath in the Italian press, and which had also urged Calvino to write a piece of cultural criticism. Calvino’s predictable – and rather politically correct – act of protest was met with equal indignation on behalf of Pasolini. Much like the rest of the Italian intelligentsia, Calvino had, in Pasolini’s view, lived by the prior assumption that only members of the Italian underclass were truly capable of committing such horrid crimes. In Pasolini’s opinion he thereby lapsed into nothing less than a ‘social racism’. To Pasolini, his critical piece had no value except for its ceremonialism. As Pasolini wrote in the ‘Lutheran Letter to Italo Calvino’, “the reality and the perspectives which are given to us are nothing but words, and an orchestrated present is the only thing that matters.” In his eyes, the Italian media faithfully mirrored “this daily existence, the maelstrom in which the politicians are caught… The journalists who reflect all of this seem to me the allies of this pristine everyday, which is consistently embroidered with a mythical seriousness… Political manoeuvring, conspiracies, intrigue, and squabbling have to pass for serious events, but if one looks more closely, one can immediately see how tragicomic, low and wicked these acrobatics really are… If poor people from the suburbs of Rome or poor migrants from Milan or Turin would have committed these crimes, they would not have caused such a journalistic stir, and one would not have written about it in the same vein. Because of racism. Poor people from the suburbs or poor migrants are considered delinquents a priori.”1

Forty years have now passed since Pasolini’s statements. As for the case of Belgian cinema, his diagnosis of ‘social racism’ still appears valid. Recent findings by the Antwerp filmmaker and journalist Orlando Verde demonstrate that no less than half of ‘allochthonous’,2 (immigrant) characters in the last half a century of Flemish cinema find themselves playing criminal roles. In 82% of these cases, they merely figure as stand-ins. If one of them is lucky enough to get a lead role, it almost invariably concerns a character within a criminal milieu. Current Belgian discourse on this observation, of course, is no less acrobatic than in Pasolini’s epoch. At the time, journalists luxuriated in shibboleths such as ‘alternative’, ‘compromise’ and ‘salary complexity’ when speaking of Italy’s economic ills, contemporary Belgian pundits try to come to terms with the intricacies of the so-called ‘multicultural question’ with rather different formulas. ‘Quartiers chauds’, ‘a festering radicalisation’, ‘the Brusselian baronies’, and ‘disparity’.3 Leading opinion writer for Flemish daily De Morgen Bart Eeckhout nominates the Brussels’ reality to be “heavy and truthful”, “as real as the village idyll of F.C. De Kampioenen.”4

Eeckhout’s statements can be found in a review of Black, the most recent film by the Belgian duo Adil El Arbi en Bilal Fallah, first released in November 2015. Black is based on the teen novels Black and Back, both by Belgian writer Dirk Bracke. The novels recount the amorous trajectory of Mavela and Marwan, youngsters from Brussels who are members of two youth gangs – Marwan of the Moroccan ‘1080s’, Mavela of the supposedly ‘African’ (the terminology is El Arbi’s) ‘Black Bronx’. The stand-off between both gangs and the love affair of the two members is the generative motor of the film. It drives the plot, the intrigue, as well as the internal dynamic of each and every scenes, which all take contemporary Brussels as its decorative background. This scenery exerts an unmistakable attraction to the directors. Their filmic tour through Brussels, ranging from the muggy Matongé-quarter to the much-maligned Molenbeek,5 is as much tourist guide as it is an act of exotic discovery: brawls, drinking sprees and speedy car thefts rush by at an infernal tempo, all cast in a formalised, Shakespearian mould (Romeo and Juliet included). Black’s stylistic references seem equally predictable: ‘Scorsese at the Senne’, ‘Spike Lee in Molenbeek’, ‘The Belgian La haine’… each of them reads as a remarkably effective marketing formula.

Perhaps this effectiveness goes far in explaining the unanimously generous reception the film has received in both the specialist and general press. Except for the Francophone La Libre Belgique and the Flemish Filmmagie, critical voices on the film seemed conspicuously absent. Flemish newspaper De Standaard elevated Fallah and El Arbi’s opus to the status of a Belgian milestone – “a gift to the whole country” – and, mainly due to the public enthusiasm of both directors, the film also turned out to be a considerable financial success in its home-country – a success crowned with both directors receiving the Award for Best Directors at the ‘Ensors’ in Ostend, the most prolific film prize in Flanders. On the occasion of its English release, The Guardian published a laudatory review of the film, describing it as a precious piece of Belgian export. Unsurprisingly, foreign commentators seem to praise Black for the same reasons as its domestic supporters. In spite of their occasional shortcomings, El Arbi and Fallah are lauded for their uncut, urgent and, above all, superlatively necessary film. Urgent and necessary, given that the directors purport to offer an answer to the slippery questions bothering a peaceful ‘multicultural society’; uncut, since, apparently no one else in the Flemish filmosphere saw themselves capable of depicting the Brusselian reality as it really is.

Inevitably, the launch of the film was coupled with the necessary amount of braggadocio. Because of its potentially explosive theme, cinema chains feared possible rioting in cinemas. In some film theatres in Brussels, the screening was preceded by a warning statement on behalf of both helmers. Such precautionary measures give a hint of the atmosphere in which the film saw its release: we are clearly dealing with an event without precedent. During an interview with journalist Kathleen Cools for the Flemish news bulletin Terzake, El Arbi himself elaborated on these dramaturgical tactics:

Cools: “While watching the movie, I constantly asked myself the same question: how realistic is this? Because, I presume, this is not your world, is it?”
El Arbi: “No, it’s not our world, but occasionally we do hear such stories through the grapevine. Both Bilall and I are young Moroccans who live in Brussels, and the story itself doesn’t take place far from our home. When we read the book, we decided to speak to some people in our neighbourhood. People had indeed heard stories of that sort.”
Cools: “Yes, the film itself is based on a book by the Young Adult writer Dirk Bracke.”
El Arbi: “Yes, and Bracke based his story on a real Marvela, whom he found in a youth re-education centre. She narrated her experience, what she went through while being in that youth gang, which is based on an existing reality. The number of youth gangs active in Brussels is estimated at around twenty. The fact remains that these girls are often the victims of gang-rapes, and those facts remain hidden within that world. They don’t bother getting in touch with the police to file a complaint – the gang simply avenges her by attacking a different girl.”
Cools: “Yes, one consistently sees that in the film. I can also imagine that, if you live further out, you don’t know Brussels that well, you don’t feel particularly inclined to visit the city. It’s extremely rough.”
El Arbi: “It’s very rough, yes. Yet in a certain sense it’s also very pure. In the end it is simply the story of two people who fall in love with each other and who want to leave a gang. In that sense it’s extremely heart-warming to see these characters together. Yet when I watch Goodfellas by Scorsese, which deals with Italians engaged in the mafia business, gunning each other down in New York, it does not render me too scared to ever return to New York, nor will I think that all people of Italian origin are potential mobsters. It’s cinema after all.”

Subsequently Cools decides to venture into more explicitly political ground, forcing El Arbi to do a rather tantalising confession: 

Cools: “Now, Adil, I could easily conduct a whole interview with you without mentioning the word ‘allochthonous’.”
El Arbi: (laughs) “No problem, to me that’s a positive term… The thing is, one cannot simply make films about your Average Joe who goes to work every day. Then one simply makes quite boring films. We grew up with the films of Spike Lee and Scorsese. Those are harsh films, ‘street movies’ let’s say. Urban gangs are a part of reality. In Brussels, youth gangs exist, but one rarely hears about them because the victims of these gangs are often members of gangs themselves. It might be referred to very briefly in a news article, but one rarely thinks of the people involved.”

Throughout the conversation, El Arbi consistently seems to flip between two different personas. On the one hand, he presents himself as an objective observer seeking to document a neglected reality – as if his work was the result of nothing less than a political calling. On the other hand, he admits to simply being in the business of making ‘enjoyable’ cinema; a cinema that could harmlessly expose the viewer to the experience of a gang member in Brussels. He intends to depict events which ‘have taken place’, but which, in his view, are all too often ignored in regular Flemish cinema. The lapidary treatment of the editorial op-ed, the perennial Brusselian faits divers,6 is the diametrical opposite of his artistic intention: to elevate quotidian Brussels to heroic proportions.

Such a treatment however, as El Arbi himself realises, also has its caveats. In the interview, considerable time is spent pondering over the importance of the word ‘allochthonous’ (immigrant), which seems to fulfil a crucial role in El Arbi’s own aesthetic practice. His film conveys the same impression: to the viewer, its carefully calculated mise-en-scène creates a parallel world wherein the (mostly) white police officers and allochthonous youngsters only meet in the case of altercations. In essence, one might say, Black owes its existence precisely to the delineative effects of the term ‘allochtonous’. By classifying the gang members as ‘foreign’ elements – in the literal sense of ‘being of a foreign earth’ – the film fences off an observing, purportedly ‘autochthonous’ Flanders from an observed Brussels, thereby establishing its own representative conditions.

Keeping up with contemporary cultural codes, the majority of Dutch speakers in Black consistently find themselves in dubious positions of authority. We see a Caucasian male trying to recuperate a stolen handbag, or a police officer for whom the instances of ‘urban violence’ becomes ever more enigmatic in their cruelty. “Look at those faces, looks just like Jurassic Park”, as one Flemish news reporter put it to his colleagues in El Arbi and Fallah’s previous film Image, when surrounded by a group of ‘Molenbeekois’ youngsters. Towards the middle of Black, Madouh – leader of the ‘Black Bronx’ gang – takes it upon himself to watch a documentary on ethnic cleansing in the Uganda of the 1990s. In a careful sequence of close-ups, provided with ominous authorial commentary (dutifully accompanied by the necessary amount of atmospheric sounds) both filmmakers go on to construct a specific mental space. Clearly, the images seem to evoke painful memories for the gang member in question. Critics have already objected that El Arbi and Fallah’s assumption here seems to be that of a violence allegedly inherent to Sub-Saharan Africa, as if it were driven by ‘primary instincts’. The same message could be found in certain sceptical reviews, which purportedly detected a latent racism in El Arbi and Fallah’s oeuvre. “As it stands, they’re nothing but zombies”, a critic from the intercultural organisation Kifkif wrote, “they’re beasts motivated by nothing but money, drugs, and sex… Their role has as much meaning as the pit-bull of their gang leader: they’re part of the scenery. They may have lent their name to the film, but that only concerns their skin colour.”

The exclusively decorative function of the black gang members is barely negated throughout the film. In another scene, Fallah and El Arbi orchestrate a bare-knuckle fight between two groups of black girls. With a bestial ferocity they lay into each other, serenaded by pumping hip-hop tracks. Together with the obligatory dance sequence, in which the ‘Black Bronx’ decide to extort a popular folk singer to pay a compensation for bodyguard service, the scene provides another textbook case example of what W.E.B. Du Bois once aptly described as the ‘white gaze’. The black gang members are rutted creatures with their own particular lingo, exhibited as rarities on a voyeuristic safari. El Arbi and Fallah’s style is impudently Americanising, almost manically so. It is clear that El Arbi and Fallah see their own film as an implicit application for a Hollywood career, where both have now started work on their next epic (among their announced curricular projects one finds, inter alia, a pilot for a series on a cocaine-epidemic in early eighties Los Angeles, a thriller on ‘matchfixing’ in the global football milieu, and a fourth instalment in the Beverly Hills Cop-franchise). Black stages, from a safe distance, the danger formed by the protagonists, all emblazoned with predictable genre-codes. The Brussels police station, very much like its American counterpart, is a locus of cultivated, traumatic professionalism. The disillusioned officers see their creed as a cursed calling, no matter how serious the whole Brusselian affair might get. The argument is rather coherent indeed: what contemporary viewers crave, is an authentic Brussels, complete with its band of urban marauders and hustling Salafists, its car-jackings and rape-scenes. All of this in an accessible format, however: “We’re in the business of making good cinema”, El Arbi postulates sans gêne.

Even the slightest hint at this ‘cult of authenticity’ is swiftly neutralised with sociological platitudes. In their own defence – something they clearly feel called to do – the filmmakers themselves repeatedly referred to the statistical reality of Brusselian banditism. Dirk Bracke, the author of the original books, simply based his novels “on a real Marvela, found in a youth-detention centre” – a fact not open to disputation. The film ends with a template informing us that “since 2002, 23 people have been killed in youth gang fights in Brussels”. When recruiting their actors, El Arbi and Fallah relied on a completely autonomous casting bureau – Hakuna Casting – which had as its professional ethos “to comb the streets of Brussels for local talent”. In an interview with the Flemish weekly Knack, Marta Canga Antonio – the actress who plays Marvela in Black – nuanced this claim, giving an account which simultaneously exposes the very complexity lurking behind words such as ‘allochthone” and “immigré”. “I grew up in Mechelen.7 Occasionally, I used to go the hairdresser in Matongé, but that was it. It was left aside what was entailed by the fact that the directors had found us on the street: I presume this was done to intensify the hype. Admittedly, as it stands, it sounds as if I was simply promenading around at the station and that they ‘picked me up’ right there. It’s true that none of us had any acting experience, but we are all perfectly normal, talented youngsters, who were simply brought together by Adil and Bilall, simply because regular casting bureaus are not broadminded enough in their selection.”8

Despite the explicit demarcation between population groups, the ‘diversity claim’ is the favoured marketing technique deployed by El Arbi and Fallah. “Flemish TV programmes and films”, they postulate, “are not representative of Flemish society as a whole. Watching a series situated in Ghent or Antwerp, one often gets the impression that allochthones don’t exist at all… We’d like to inject some colour into the world of Belgian film. Some realism and diversity, and not always the same actors.” The guilt-ridden Fleming finds moral comfort in El Arbi and Fallah’s willingness to operate as the spokesmen for the immigrant community. “Racism” they assert “has always been a part of our lives.” The educational file compiled by the production company in charge of Black, boldly declares “that the duo is the ideal megaphone for the allochthonous community which Flanders needed all along.” A conclusive explanation of why precisely El Arbi and Fallah are most suited to remedy this hiatus, is again found in their “realism” and “authenticity”. “The mirage which high society has been showing us all along… is shattered, only to confront the viewer directly with the youth gangs which have roamed Brussels’ lost neighbourhoods for decades.”9

Time and time again, a putative ‘realism’ is trucked out to serve as the moral proviso for the film – a warrant to unleash extremely violent rape scenes on the viewer. El Arbi and Fallah’s trick of course had its precedents. In 2013, the American director Kathryn Bigelow found herself forced, after continuing criticism, to provide some justification for the inclusion of torture scenes in her film Zero Dark Thirty. “Those of us who work in the arts”, she replied rather meekly, “know that depiction is not endorsement. If it was, no artist would be able to paint inhumane practices, no author could write about them, and no filmmaker could delve into the thorny subjects of our time.” In a reaction to Bigelow’s text, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek retorted her plea by giving the comparative example of a rape-scene. What if Bigelow had decided to depict an instance of sexual assault rather than a brutally violent interrogation? As he writes: “What if a film were to show a brutal rape in the same neutral way, claiming that one should avoid cheap moralism and start to think about rape in all its complexity? Our instincts tell us that there is something terribly wrong here – I would like to live in a society where rape is simply considered unacceptable, so that anyone who argues for it appears an eccentric idiot, not in a society where one has to argue against it.”

In complete disregard for Žižek’s reproach, Black ventures even further. El Arbi and Fallah are patently uninterested in the task of offering a ‘neutral’ depiction of a sexual crime. Both even seem wholly uninterested in that putative complexity which declares that all cinematographic manoeuvres inevitably brush over certain nuances – the claim that matters, after all, “are not that simple”. The rape of the black Marvela is depicted with a nauseating bravado. In the end, it serves one single goal: to please. This cinematographic catharsis – which functions as the dissolution of a narrative arc that saw a one-hour-long build-up – is cut in predictable fashion. As a scene, it shares a genetic affiliation with the compulsory strip club-part in a hip-hop video. The helpless girl, stark-naked, is surrounded by sweaty men. The whole thing is recorded by a supple ‘participatory’ camera, capturing everything with its rapturous gaze. The scene is aglow with lurid colours and beautiful ‘black bodies’. Some snippets from a ghetto-blaster finalise the whole. As a film, Black indeed shares the structure of a perverse wish-dream: with an almost minute telicity the rape scene is brought to its logical culmination, only to intensify the amount of emotional saturation. The post-coital moment is accompanied by a suitable musical accompaniment: a cover of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’, in which the singer reports on her struggles with an opioid addiction. Again, the connotative implications seem abundantly clear here: to El Arbi and Fallah’s mind, these forms of ‘black’ violence are not only intensely enjoyable, they’re also addictive. In contrast to Zero Dark Thirty, which confronts a post-imperial America with its past, violence is not only an object worthy of normalisation in Black. With El Arbi and Fallah, it is rather made into an object of lustful longing, a means to visual gratification. In the end, the rather meagre storyline only serves to facilitate these instances of excess, as if both filmmakers took a full mortgage to finance such a risky moral investment. Not surprisingly, the rape of the sister of a Moroccan gang member remains hidden to the viewer. Black’s technical machinery is about to combust, and they simply cannot let the project derail in such a way.

Upon closer inspection, Black proclaims a profound political pessimism. Flemish and Brussels citizens, whites and blacks, Belgians of Moroccan descent and Belgians of Congolese descent, share no political language which could facilitate a form of shared emancipation. As an implicit affirmation of a specific kind of Brusselian tribalism – in which demographic groups share a political space like atomic units – Fallah and El Arbi’s film presents us with its own political lesson. Best stay home; no agitation, please – Brussels is a mess, always has been. Above all: who cares. The political nihilism embodied by Black is even more explicit in a conversation El Arbi conducted with Flemish star-director Erik van Looy and television figure Guy Mortier, after a screening of the film at the Toronto International Film Festival:

Mortier: “Was the film well-received?”
El Arbi: “Yes, but some of the Q&A’s were quite tough, very though. Someone told me they’d never had Q&A’s quite like that.”
Van Looy: “Because of the theme?”
El Arbi: “Yes, quite controversial… A lot of questions on the rape scene, on how we decided to display it. And some black people… The last Q&A I had yesterday, we had a guy who looked just like a Black Panther-dude. “I, as a black man, I’m very offended by the way you portray the black man.””
Mortier: (imitating El Arbi) “Well, look at me.”
El Arbi: “I’m also from Africa, you know.”

In 1958, during the Belgian World Exposition, the intendants of the Congolese pavilion constructed a so-called ‘human park’ in the middle of the Belgian capital. In the local pavilion, visitors could witness the daily dealings of an imported tribe of African pygmies, live in their original anthropological setting. As with its colonial antecedent, the aversion and the disgust evoked by Black are so predictable and self-evident that any possible critique on it inevitably turns into an exercise in evasion. How would one go about ‘proving’ the moral depravity of a human park? How could one begin to argue for the moral legitimacy of a rape scene? Black is shamelessly misogynistic, unabashedly pornographic, one-sidedly violent, unabatedly racist. Any claim towards alleged diverse representation remains purely rhetorical and mercantile. The real political horizon of Black is mirrored in the empty marketing formulas thought up by the PR-bureau in charge of the promotional aspect: “diversity”, “colour”, “allochtone”, “quartier”, “gamin” – terms which serve to ‘publicise a product’. “Scoops is what we need!”, the Flemish actor Géne Bervoets exclaimed in El Arbi’s previous film, Image.10

Those who regard Black as honouring to the historical inheritance of a ‘political cinema’ could not be more wrong. Not only do El Arbi and Fallah strive towards the realisation of a false objectivity, they frenetically seek out to affirm this objectivity, as if one was dealing with a desirable utopia. In a conversation with Flemish daily De Standaard, sociologist Elke Van Hellemont (KULeuven) remarked that precisely the ‘mythical’ facet of urban youth gangs explains their attractiveness to déclassés youngsters. She describes the Brusselian gang world as a ‘degenerated game’, centred on the fata morgana of the American ‘gangster epic’ (or, in El Arbi’s words, the street movie). In this optic, El Arbi and Fallah offer us the romanticisation of an illusionary world, the pornofication of an imaginary crime. The oppressed can only look at themselves through the eyes of the oppressors; the colonised may only exist by grace of the coloniser.

“As is always the case with this kind of indigenous filmmaking”, one enthusiastic critic informs us, “some people will object, snootily, pointing out the deficiencies of the film [...] In return, I would like to inform them of Black’s greatest virtue: this young couple, which, if only for a moment, found an innocence from the judgmental gazes of their environment, is a gift to the entire country. This is a film that displays reality, and which, with unprecedented generosity, casts it into the public eye. El Arbi and Fallah do not close their eyes for the urban misère – Black is simply too bleak for that... The future belongs to Marwan and Mavela. Brussels is a luxurious city.”

Few statements offer a better illustration of the Pasolinian thesis. Without any sense of scruples, contemporary viewers are asked to consume an “unfiltered everyday”, gowned in the guise of a “mythical seriousness”. The mendacious diversitarian theatre enacted by El Arbi and Fallah – which attempts to import an allegedly ‘copious’ but ultimately imaginary world into the cosy, autochthonous bedroom – can only be celebrated by grace of a critical suicide. In this cinematic circus – in which the quotidian turns into the banal, the banal into the inevitable, all thanks to Pasolini’s “low and artful acrobatics” – any sense of a truly existing Brussels, with its real youngsters, its real police officers, its real petty crime and very real rapes, is coerced into one final function: to serve as the ornament for dilettantes.

  • 1Pier Paolo Pasoloni, ‘Lettera luterana a Italo Calvino’, Il Mondo, 30 October 1975. [translated by Anton Jaeger and Jan Saelens]
  • 2The Dutch word ‘allochtoon’ (here translated with the rather technical ‘allochthonous’) was first used in Dutch academic discourse in the early 1970s. Originally used in specialist language to describe the genealogies of newly arrived immigrants, it swiftly became a general term in Flanders and the Netherlands, used to describe citizens whose parents are of foreign descent, but who are themselves born in Belgium or the Netherlands. In the early 2000s, however, in place of the more strict lexical ‘foreign-born’, the word established itself as the synonym for Belgian or Dutch citizens of Moroccan and/or Turkish descent, not rarely with Islamic beliefs, leading to a contentious status in a contemporary journalistic lexicon, with some newspapers and society figures refusing to use the word. For example: from 2014 on, Flemish daily De Morgen, together with Belgian-born Manchester City-footballer Vincent Kompany, publicly declared that they would cease to use the word as a descriptive term because of its pejorative connotations.
  • 3Quartier chauds’ is a Francophone expression often used by the Flemish press to describe certain ‘problematic’ neighbourhoods in inner cities, such as Molenbeek in Brussels. ‘The Brusselian baronies’ refers to the peculiar institutional outlook of the contemporary Brusselian polity, in which the French-speaking Parti Socialiste has managed to monopolise most political mandates in the capital; thereby, according to some Flemish commentators, leading to a form of political neo-feudalism. ‘Disparity of chance’ is a translation of the Dutch ‘kansarmoede’, which denotes the difficulties children of immigrants often encounter in the school system in Brussels.
  • 4The Flemish daily De Morgen has a broadly left-liberal editorial line, itself being a descendant of the newspaper of the Flemish Socialist Party. F.C. De Kampioenen is a popular Flemish television show, often aired on Friday evenings, which deals with a group of amateur football players in a small Flemish village. As such, the series often seems to offer a sociological sketch of Flemish society both old and new – quintessentially Flemish typologies (alcoholic goalkeepers, Francophone sugar daddies, petty bourgeois wives) are cast in comical situations, offering a second-rate version of Fawlty Towers.
  • 5Matongé and Molenbeek are sub-districts of the Brussels Metropolitan Region. While the first is populated mainly by Brusselians from the post-colonial Congolese diaspora, the second is often associated with the influx of Moroccan and Turkish ‘guest workers’ in the 1970s. Both districts are often branded ‘mono-ethnic’ and ‘monocultural’ by the right-wing Flemish press.
  • 6In 2010, the then serving mayor of Brussels Freddy Thielemans found himself in the midst of a media storm when he referred to a recent incident in the district of Schaarbeek in which two shooters had exchanged gunfire, with the French expression ‘fait divers’, meaning as much as ‘daily business’ in English journalism. The event itself, and its subsequent media-aftermath, quickly attained symbolic status in Flemish discourse on the Belgian capital; the city was seen as a dangerous element in the country, where the abnormal had become normal. In 2016, one of the shooters implicated in the incident commented on by Thielemans turned out to be one of the suicide-bombers of the March Attacks on the airport and the metro-station Maalbeek in Brussels.
  • 7A small Flemish provincial city north of Brussels with a population of 85,000 people.
  • 8‘Jaaroverzicht 2015. November 2015’, Knack nr. 52, 23 december 2015, 171.
  • 9Black, educational file.
  • 10Gène Bervoets is a well-known Flemish actor, known for his grandiloquent roles in many a Belgian film. In Image, he played the editor of a Flemish news station looking for ‘scoops’ on recent riots in the Belgian capital.

Many thanks to Bjorn Gabriels


Image from Black (Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah, 2015)

In Passage, Sabzian invites film critics, authors, filmmakers and spectators to send a text or fragment on cinema that left a lasting impression.
Pour Passage, Sabzian demande à des critiques de cinéma, auteurs, cinéastes et spectateurs un texte ou un fragment qui les a marqués.
In Passage vraagt Sabzian filmcritici, auteurs, filmmakers en toeschouwers naar een tekst of een fragment dat ooit een blijvende indruk op hen achterliet.
The Prisma section is a series of short reflections on cinema. A Prisma always has the same length – exactly 2000 characters – and is accompanied by one image. It is a short-distance exercise, a miniature text in which one detail or element is refracted into the spectrum of a larger idea or observation.
La rubrique Prisma est une série de courtes réflexions sur le cinéma. Tous les Prisma ont la même longueur – exactement 2000 caractères – et sont accompagnés d'une seule image. Exercices à courte distance, les Prisma consistent en un texte miniature dans lequel un détail ou élément se détache du spectre d'une penséée ou observation plus large.
De Prisma-rubriek is een reeks korte reflecties over cinema. Een Prisma heeft altijd dezelfde lengte – precies 2000 tekens – en wordt begeleid door één beeld. Een Prisma is een oefening op de korte afstand, een miniatuurtekst waarin één detail of element in het spectrum van een grotere gedachte of observatie breekt.
Jacques Tati once said, “I want the film to start the moment you leave the cinema.” A film fixes itself in your movements and your way of looking at things. After a Chaplin film, you catch yourself doing clumsy jumps, after a Rohmer it’s always summer, and the ghost of Akerman undeniably haunts the kitchen. In this feature, a Sabzian editor takes a film outside and discovers cross-connections between cinema and life.
Jacques Tati once said, “I want the film to start the moment you leave the cinema.” A film fixes itself in your movements and your way of looking at things. After a Chaplin film, you catch yourself doing clumsy jumps, after a Rohmer it’s always summer, and the ghost of Akerman undeniably haunts the kitchen. In this feature, a Sabzian editor takes a film outside and discovers cross-connections between cinema and life.
Jacques Tati zei ooit: “Ik wil dat de film begint op het moment dat je de cinemazaal verlaat.” Een film zet zich vast in je bewegingen en je manier van kijken. Na een film van Chaplin betrap je jezelf op klungelige sprongen, na een Rohmer is het altijd zomer en de geest van Chantal Akerman waart onomstotelijk rond in de keuken. In deze rubriek neemt een Sabzian-redactielid een film mee naar buiten en ontwaart kruisverbindingen tussen cinema en leven.