Belgian cinema flexes its muscles at Cannes

Plenty of Belgians getting attention on the Croisette

CANNES -- Belgian cinema is flexing its muscles at this year's fest and market.

Two-time Palme d'Or winners Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, whose quiet drama "Lorna's Silence" unspooled Monday In Competition, are undoubtedly the highest-profile Belgian filmmakers in Cannes, but their compatriots are enjoying an unprecendented presence.

The Belgian industry can boast two films in the Directors' Fortnight sidebar, Bouli Lanners' "Eldorado" and Joachim Lafosse's "Eleve Libre," plus three in Critics Week, namely Ursula Meier's "Home," Gregory Lecocq's "Harragas" and Bruno Romy, Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel's "Rumba."

Compared to just one Belgian production selected for 2006's Cannes Competition and one in the 2007 Critics Week, a total of 11 titles produced in Belgium, short films included, are spread across the various sections of the fest this year.

Thanks to a supportive tax shelter and a mix of both established names -- the brothers Dardenne, Jaco Van Dormael -- and innovative new talent -- Joachim Lafosse, Fiona Gordon -- Belgian cinema is enjoying a wave of success on the international film scene. The country's French-speaking production and international marketing entity, Wallonie-Bruxelles Images, a "mini, mini Unifrance," according to WBImage's Manager Eric Franssen, produces around 20 Belgian-led co-productions per year.

The Belgian industry collectively submitted a dozen feature films for selection in Cannes this year. "There's always been a love story between Belgian cinema and the Festival de Cannes. For our filmmakers, being selected for the fest is an important objective," Franssen said.

Between cultural aid from the country's national film body to economic support from the Wallimages regional fund and fiscal aid, Belgian filmmakers can more easily make French-language films than their colleagues in Gaul, whose projects are increasingly threatened by the widening gap between low-budget and more commercial films. But as Franssen pointed out, $8 million would be considered a big budget in Belgium. The Dardenne brothers' "Lorna" was made for around 3 million euros ($4.7 million) and both "El Dorado" and "Rumba" for around 2 million euros ($3.1 million). "We make films adapted to our economic situation," Franssen added.

After years of being the brunt of Gallic jokes, Belgium is finally becoming a la mode in France both in terms of border-crossing acting talents -- Jeremie Renier, Cecile de France and Olivier Gourmet among others -- and filmmakers making waves across the globe.