Thursday, 8 September 2016

LE CIEL FLAMAND - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2016 - Flemish Heaven?Heaven? Really?

Le Ciel Flamand (2016)
Dir. Peter Monsaert
Starring: Sara Vertongen, Wim Willaert, Esra Vandenbussche

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I texted the following note to a pal right after seeing Peter Monsaert's Le Ciel Flamand.

"Uh, so I just saw this movie in which a sad sack bus driver attempts to rekindle his relationship with a brothel keeper whose 6-year-old daughter has been molested by the town's Santa Claus."

The response I received was thus:

"OK, that does not even sound like a real movie."

I'll admit my tongue was slightly in cheek with this description of one of the most original and moving experiences I had this year, but the fact remains that it's not an especially improper portraiture.

You see, single Mom Sylvie (Sara Vertongen) runs a tidy little brothel with Monique (Ingrid De Vos), her Mother. Bearing the moniker "Le Ciel Flamand" (the almost hilariously oxymoronic English translation is "Flemish Heaven"), the modest house of ill repute, nestled off a grubby highway under the grey Belgian skies, is adorned in red lights and within, it seems an especially cozy refuge for gentlemen seeking womanly release.

Still, it is a brothel and Sylvie's six-year-old Eline (Esra Vandenbussche, Vertogen's real-life child) is never allowed inside and instead, spends her time in the car or in the company of the kindly Uncle Dirk (Wim Willaert), our aforementioned bus-drivin' man of the hangdog schlemiel persuasion.

Uncle Dirk is, of course, Eline's biological Dad. His paternal love for the child is unmistakeable, but so is the torch he carries for Sylvie. When the sweet child is molested by a pedophile, the status quo casts aspersions upon Sylvie's profession and fitness as a mother - as if prostitution was to blame. God knows Sylvie herself feels guilt about it, but she's a great Mom, a powerhouse businesswoman and a first-rate provider of the world's oldest services.

The cops are pretty much useless (as they so often are) and Dirk finds himself on two odysseys; one, to find the pedophile and two, to pursue the joy of familial bliss with Eline and her mother.

In addition to the film's unique, often kitchen-sink exploration of both motherhood and loneliness, writer-director Monsaert never casts an eye of reproach upon the sex trade. Indeed, he pens the delightfully warm description of Sylvie's work as providing "hugs" to gentlemen in need of said hugs. (Eline accepts this explanation from her Mother with the sensitivity and openness only children can bring and her spirit is infectious throughout both the film itself and within the hearts and minds of the audience.)

This film's positive portrayal of prostitution is refreshing in both its frankness and clear-headedness. It doesn't avoid the ugly side of the business, but frankly, all business is replete with a fair share of monstrousness.

Monsaert's directorial artistry extends to every dramatic beat, but no place is his eye of observation more acute in providing Dirk's POV of the town's local Santa Clause (or, in Flemish/Dutch/Eastern Rite and other customs, St. Nicholas). When we see the sordid Santa dandling kids on his knee, Dirk sees what only someone looking for the tell-tale signs will see. We see them too. Chillingly, it reminded me of the several times I witnessed pedophiliac tendencies in men. Remind me to tell you sometime about one guy I knew at a dog park (a fellow beloved by many children) who sported a hard-on whenever he spoke to my own child. Scumbag!

What Dirk observes and corroborates beyond a shadow of a doubt leads to a virtual explosion of mad intensity which knocks you flat on your ass, precisely because of Monsaert's observational eye throughout and the quiet intensity with which he permeates this gorgeous, love-filled slice of humanity.


Le Ciel Flamand plays TIFF 2016