Underrated Dramas: Benelux


Recently I decided to partake in another great theme going on at Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The last list I did there was for the Underrated Comedies series. As I anticipated, there was far more competition among movies I like to make the dramas list than the comedies list. So much so that I decided to post ancillary lists here before the big list debuts there. I wasn’t able to get all the contenders onto these lists but I was able to feature the most competitive regions (foreign films were one of my main foci). This is the second list, here is the first.

Underrated Dramas: Benelux

Benelux is the collective name for the region of Europe comprised of the Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg. I’ve yet to see a film made and set in Luxembourg, but I hope that changes soon.

In the past few years it seems that all the movies I’ve seen from the region are outstanding films, and I have not yet seen some more well-known ones (Such as Bullhead). Regardless the point needs to be made as only only two of the eight would not be considered recent.

In many cases, I’ve already written about these films before so the blurbs will be brief and there will be links included. This is as much a declaration of an emerging and vibrant region, that many seem to be overlooking; as it is a list.

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Jeanne Dielman (1975, Janus Films)

I only ever heard of this film thanks to something I read in a booklet that accompanied a Bela Tarr film on DVD. The fact that it took that, to me, makes it an underrated film. It’s one that admittedly I had to give a second chance, but I’m glad I did.

Winter in Wartime (2008)

Winter in Wartime (2008, Sony Pictures Classics)

This is a film I viewed by myself, and it made quite a big dent in that year’s BAM Awards. This was an official selection for the Netherlands to the Academy Awards but took a while to get picked up and didn’t make a lot of noise when it did; it ought to have.

Ciske the Rat (1984)

Ciske the Rat (1984, Concorde Film)

This is a film that fits one of the criteria I set out of being out-of-print. To tell you of some of the levels in which it excels would be to give away too much, but it is a film both sensitive and shocking, that has endearing and infuriating moments that are all completely by design.

The Misfortunates (2009)

The Misfortunates (2009, NeoClassics Films)

The upbringing of an artist is a narrative that always intrigues me. More often than not these tales tell of less-than-pristine circumstances wherein the protagonist overcomes misunderstanding or even lack of support to excel against the odds. The Misfortunates doesn’t break that mold necessarily but it tells its tale well within it, as I tweeted:

“The Misfortunates” a well-acted, interestingly constructed, creatively told family drama about an author’s upbringing in Flanders.

Considering I saw this well ahead of the other films it could benefit greatly from a revisit as I’ve grown more accustomed to the sensibilities and aesthetics that seem to be the zeitgeist in the region at current.

North Sea Texas (2011)

North Sea Texas (2011, Strand Releasing)

While nominated at the most recent GLAAD Awards, it sadly didn’t walk away a winner there. I still assert that the test of time will treat this film very well. I included it in many ways in the 2012 BAM Awards, with significant wins and submitted it to OMIEs and LAMBs and will continue to champion it.

The remaining three could make some serious hay in the upcoming BAM Awards:

The Giants (2012)

The Giants (Kino Lorber, 2011)

In any year, there are those films that stand out, and continue to, long after they’ve been seen. This is one of them. This film recently came to not again for me after reading Mike Scott’s take. It’s a strong film, that treats adolescence in less-than-ideal-circumstances a very real way that doesn’t have sensationalized “grit” and doesn’t forsake soul. Highly, highly recommended.

Allez, Eddy! (2012)

Allez, Eddy! (2012, Benelux Film Distributors)

Creativity and quirkiness abound in this tale that transcends the usual trappings of underdog-sports-tales and children’s films to be rather artistic, humorous, moving and heartwarming.

Time of My life (2012)

Time of My Life (2012, Strand Releasing)

The most wondrous thing about this film is that from the outset you know how it’s going to end, but that doesn’t make it any less effective as a statement or as a piece of raw, human drama.

8 Out of Print Titles That Shouldn’t Be

These days it is very difficult to find anything which is out of print, which is a great thing, it is usually the diamonds in the rough which will inspire future generations. And the more of those which are readily available the more likely great art will be inspired in coming generations. More studios should be following suit with Warner Brothers and slowly rolling out their vaults and making almost anything and everything available to all. Below are films which good, bad and ugly are currently unavailable on either VHS or DVD, and that ought not be so. Many of them represent types and I’m sure you can find a handful of films similar to the titles I mention. Those suggestions are welcome and just as viable.

8. Serials (any serial)

The most idealistic choice, but seriously I don’t know how these can be expensive and someone should pick them up and distribute them on an On Demand basis because they’re like a cinematic drug; addictive. The serial is just classical storytelling at its best and it has inspired some of the best loved film series of the 20th centuries (think Star Wars and Indiana Jones). If you chop those down into 15 minute installments you get classic cliffhangers. Blake of Scotland Yard for the novice has absolutely everything you need, if you want the most inventive array of genres mixed together get The Phantom Empire.

7.Song of the South

Song of the South (Disney)

Here are facts regarding Song of the South: The controversy surrounding racism in this film is centered on two key points: first, the “happy slave” character. This, however, was cliché. The vitriol against the film really comes from the subplot of Bre’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby. This was a direct adaptation of the original tale and literally about a baby made of tar. The film unintentionally put the term into the common vernacular as a racist slur. While I can’t defend many animators regarding many insensitive jokes in this era this one did seem rather innocuous. Due to one short scene an all around decent and wonderful film has been lost in time. Compounding it is that clips of the film have been used in Sing-A-Longs, characters from the film are at Disneyland and -World and everyone sings “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” It’s a bit hypocritical and a bit of a tease to let younger generations know this film exists and that they’re not allowed to see it. Disney should either bury it or put it out there, stop trying to have your cake and eat it too. Keep in mind that titles which are overtly racist like Birth of a Nation and Leni Reifenstahl’s propaganda films are readily available, so it’s not even as if the home video market is devoid of contentious subject matter so if one disagrees with this assessment of Song of the South rest assured it’s not readily available and if it were you needn’t buy it.

6. As Aventuras da Turma da Monica

As Aventuras da Turma da Mônica (Mauricio de Sousa)

This is the original animated feature which sews together vignettes starring Mauricio de Sousa’s seemingly endless cast of characters. It’s a wonder no studio has tried to introduce these characters to the States since his comics and cartoons are syndicated all over Latin America, Europe and Asia.

5.Ciske the Rat

Ciske the Rat (Concorde Films)

A staggering, realistic and disturbing portrayal of the birth of a juvenile delinquent in the most haunting and disturbing way possible where you can identify with it and almost want it to happen. A strong 1980s entry from the Netherlands.

4. Shark: Rosso nell’oceano

Shark: Rosso nell'oceano (Cinema Shares International Distribution)

This is a film I first and only saw on Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and is one of the most memorable and hilarious episodes of that show. It truly is one of the grotesquely terrible films ever made. Case in point, it’s more like an octopus than a shark, not sure what the rationale behind the title was exactly. With or without any comic relief this film is painful.

3. Eu Sei Que Eu Vou Te Amar

Eu Sei Que Eu Vou Te Amar (Embrafilme)

Features Fernanda Torres in a role which won her Best Actress at Cannes in one of her first performances it is another compelling, complex and fascinating film by Arnaldo Jabor which takes place almost entirely within the confines of an apartment yet stays engagingly cinematic.

2. The Cellar

The Cellar (Hemdale Home Video)

Is a prime example of execution of a film and its plot heavily outweighing the importance of budget, production value and actor’s ability. The sum of the last three factors should not be enough to make a great horror movie but the cinematography, ingenious and practical effects work, score and editing make this movie happen.

1. They Shall Have Music

They Shall Have Music (United Artists)

I saw this during 31 Days of Oscar on TCM. It is a standard 1939 tear-jerker which makes it better than anything today in that regard. It’s a nice easy watch with a deservedly Academy-Award nominated score by Alfred Newman and great cinematography by Gregg Toland.