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Review: Broken View


- In an abundant and charming film-essay, Hannes Verhoustraete tackles the story of Belgian colonialism and of the film production techniques which drew consensus for the colonial endeavour

Review: Broken View

Broken View [+see also:
interview: Hannes Verhoustraete
film profile
is the name of Hannes Verhoustraete’s second film, which was presented at the 59th Pesaro International New Film Festival. It’s a title which emphasises the urgency to interrogate the images created by Belgian colonialism and to denounce their misuse. Two mirror trajectories spring from this double investigation which reconstruct the story of the magic lantern, first in Belgium at the end of the nineteenth century, and then relating to the colonial crimes carried out by the Belgian state in the Congo, in a film-essay which explores the anthropology of religion, the history of primitive cinema and theoretical reflection on the use of mass-media. Indeed, Broken View doesn’t shy away from the ambiguity and appeal of the hand-coloured photos which were used to impose the racist discourse of the Belgian colonial nightmare. Instead, it captures the diabolical essence of the latter, conveying its mind-numbing complexity, in an accumulation of quotations and overexposure of images and texts which turn it into a jam-packed and painful essay, as well as an aesthetically pleasing film. An enormous quantity of material hauled out of various archives scattered across Belgium is carefully analysed by the narrating voice of Verhoustraete himself, in a philosophical exploration which is enchanting on the one hand, yet horrific on the other, when accompanied by images of the utmost violence from a past which keeps on returning like a ghost.

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Despite the ambiguity inherent to the medium, the author’s position towards his nation’s history is clear, and his reflection sparks a short-circuit, leading to a dialectic which might help us come to terms with a time when proto-cinema was a weapon as powerful as a gun. A dialectic which sheds intense light on post-colonial discourse vis-à-vis the creation of film material, and whose significant predecessor was Luca Comerio’s photography work on Angela Ricci-Lucchi and Yervant Gianikian’s From the Pole to the Equator.

The tortuous path taken by Broken View also encompasses modern footage, however, notably of the popular Procession of the Holy Blood in Bruges in which the tradition of black face continues to persist. Indeed, Verhoustraete suggests the idea that iconographic continuity in Christianity serves to preserve a racist society at the heart of Europe, when the latter is struggling to break loose from colonial nostalgia. But the tone of the film isn’t one of denunciation and indignation. The author uses the history of the images to describe, investigate and make room for an alternating discourse which is pedagogical but also stripped of paternalism. A discourse based on the principal that you can’t dismantle the colonial outlook with the same tools and languages with which it was built.

A similar work of post-colonial reflection was previously attempted by the Belgian director and scholar, albeit in a different form, by way of his first film Un pays plus beau qu’avant (2019), which followed the Congolese diaspora in Brussels. In Broken View, however, his approach becomes mature, educated, pulsating. And, ironically, it shows that film, when done well, can also be an instrument for emancipation, whether by keeping heritage alive or by avoiding - according to one of the film’s many quotes - “turning enlightenment into myth”.

Broken View is produced by Accattone Films.

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(Translated from Italian)

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