'Flanders': Brutal Power

Friday, July 27, 2007

"Flanders," which takes us from the rustic heartland of northern France to the killing fields of an unnamed foreign locale, has such a primitive poetry, we are moved even by its most gruesome moments.

The French movie, which won the Grand Jury Prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival, centers on André Demester (Samuel Boidin), a farmer in Flanders, whose wordless, tortured exterior belies a powerful sensibility. He is in love with Barbe (Adelaide Leroux), a local teenager, but he can't bring himself to admit it.

She seems to accept it, even to the point of sharing wordless, functional sex with him. But when André and fellow villager Blondel (Henri Cretel) are drafted, they enter a realm of wartime hell (with desert, mountain and even forested locales that seem to be in North Africa and the Mideast), in which atrocities are committed on both sides. And André and Barbe's relationship -- such as it is -- suffers its toughest test.

While André and Blondel undergo unspeakable ordeals -- this extended chapter of the movie includes combat killing, rape, point-blank executions and castration -- Barbe suffers her own horrors by having an abortion and then being sent to a mental asylum. French filmmaker Bruno Dumont urges his audience to delve beneath the movie's melodramatic, often graphic surface and experience the film sensorially rather than intellectually. It takes watching the whole movie, with all its brutality, before we realize its true, romantic purpose.

-- Desson Thomson

Flanders Unrated, 91 minutes Contains graphic atrocities, violence, sexual scenes, nudity and rape. In French with subtitles. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company