I grew up in the same region as where this movie takes place.

It’s a region, let’s call it the Dender region, named after a local river, with a very strange culture full of paradoxical habits.

Some characteristics:

  • The more you like someone the harsher you criticize them and overload them with insults
  • Alcohol is rampant and fuels relationships
  • Although people express themselves in the vilest, basest way possible there is at the same time a certain wisdom to them
  • There is a weird bitter joy to be found in misery
  • People expect things to go wrong and are happy in a ‘look, I told you so’ way when things do go wrong
  • One is cheerfully pessimistic.
  • I guess you could say failure is celebrated in this culture, whereas success is suspicious. Success is only ok if the successful person stays humble and proves he knows he’s no better than anyone else
  • Dreaming big is very pretentious and whoever becomes a great success has cheated the odds OR has sold out and betrayed himself, someone or everyone
  • what’s ugly is beautiful
  • imagine people seeing life like Beaudelaire saw it in ‘Les fleurs du mal’
  • Kids are more or less treated like adults, although they are referred to as ‘small one’ which in its original version doesn’t sound cute, it sounds harsh, but is often meant in a tender way
  • Kids tend not to be shielded from the world of adults, which means they will hear conversations about sex, booze, drugs, violence, cheating, fights, criminal activity, etc
  • Of course this all applies more for the working class of the region, but even the other classes have at least a whiff of this mentality
  • Authority is made fun of all the time, but ultimately people tend to comply with what the authorities demand anyway. I despise you, but ok, I will do what you’re forcing me to do
  • You could call it ‘tender anarchism’
  • the anti-authoritarian spirit is in every aspect of life, but lacks any direction or goal. ‘The system’ is railed against, but no alternative is ever organized. As though being permanently anti-establishment is the real goal. Therefore the establishment is mocked, but has no real threats to fear

In practice this means that as a kid you can see a parent get so drunk he or she pees on your books. Or an adult is so drunk he lights his on breast hair on fire to show off. Or people start rolling over the floor with chairs. Or someone pours a whole pint of beer over his head claiming it stimulates hair growth. Or people start burning their own furniture. Or they get behind the wheel in such an intoxicated state that any other person with that much alcohol in his system would simply pass out. Or people get totally drunk and then decide to renovate their house and get badly injured in the process.

Not shown in this movie is how common suicide is in this region.

If I have a problem with this movie it’s that the reality it does an inspired job to show is actually far, far sadder even than this movie suggests, although in all that filth, fury, despair, satire and pile of broken dreams there is indeed a lot of tenderness to be found as well.

Students of Dutch will have to watch this movie with subtitles. Even native speakers will probably need them as here and there some dialect is spoken. Also people from the Netherlands will have problems understanding some of the dialogue without subtitles.

If you study Dutch and you want to become familiar with the part of Belgium where they speak Dutch (Flemish) then this is simply a must see movie.

My students liked it a lot and were either laughing out loud or shaking their heads in shock and disgust.

Needless to say that am very glad I don’t live there anymore.

Zuzana says I would already be dead if I had stayed there.

zuzi en ik

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