Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Winner of the 2006 Grand Prix jury award at Cannes, Flanders reaches our shores with an impressive pedigree, but can this bold and peculiar film live up to the hype? More to the point for most cinema-goers, is it worth watching? It certainly has big things to say, and its stark landscapes are visually involving, but its deliberate distance and blunt characterisation means there's no emotional payoff until the very end. For many viewers, this will be too late.

Flanders is the story of a group of young men who leave their rural homeland to go and fight in an unspecified foreign war. Quickly finding themselves out of their depth, they move around the rocky desert terrain in a series of frantic sorties, with less and less idea of their aim. Increasingly they find themselves unable - or unwilling - to tell the innocent from the enemy. As they fall apart psychologically, their experiences are somehow shared by Barbe, the strange, wayward girl they left behind.

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What makes their story disturbing is the way they interact normally and perceive themselves to be reasonable despite the madness of their situation. Barbe, surrounded by quiet fields, falls into a more obvious madness and is given the psychiatric help which is overlooked entirely when it comes to the war; but it is only when the soldier who loves her returns to her side that they will both be able to begin the process of rediscovering themselves.

With such a daring pretext, it's not surprising that Flanders is not entirely successful. Its depictions of the callousness and paranoia which can develop in war are intelligently handled, yet they make it difficult for the viewer to feel much real concern for the fate of these people. Barbe's plight is much more involving and, refreshingly, doesn't sentimentalise the notion of the woman left behind; however, the manifestations of her madness are essentially underexplored. Too often we are left looking at her from the outside with no real understanding of why she behaves as she does.

Many people will find Flanders disturbing and difficult to watch. Others will be put off by a level of realism which, ironically, borders on the surreal. If you're willing to give it a go anyway, you'll find it pleasingly different and curiously articulate; but ultimately, it falls short of the mark.

Reviewed on: 04 Jul 2007
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A young woman goes mad at home whilst the soldier who loves her is surrounded by madness abroad.
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Director: Bruno Dumont

Writer: Bruno Dumont

Starring: Adélaïde Leroux, Samuel Boidin, Henri Cretel, Jean-Marie Bruveart, David Poulain, Patrice Venant

Year: 2006

Runtime: 91 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: France


CFF 2007
London 2006

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