The first screening in Belgium of the Lumière cinema took place in Brussels on March 1, 1896, but a national production did not immediately develop in the country, although the scientific premises of cinema were also linked to some inventors of Belgian nationality: Étienne-Gaspard Robert said Robertson (1763-1837), active in Paris and known for ‘phantasmagoria’ shows in the post-revolutionary years, and Joseph Plateau (1801-1883), famous in the first half of the nineteenth century for the invention of instruments aimed at reproducing the moving image, the thaumatrope and the phenachistoscope, based on the principle of the persistence of light impressions on the retina. In the period of silent cinema there were few examples of a properly national cinematography: from the beginning of the decade of the twentieth century, it was created in Belgium a distribution system such as to allow the construction of a large number of cinemas (around 650 in 1914), showing foreign films, mainly French and then, after the First World War, also American and German films. was covered by the French Alfred Machin (1877-1929), former operator of the Pathé Frères production house, to whom we owe the first feature film made in Belgium, L’histoire de Minna Claessens (1912). Between 1912 and 1914 Machin made more than twenty films, such as for example. the pacifist Maudite soit la guerre (1914), who struck for the realism with which aerial combat was represented, or Säida a enlevé Manneken Pis and Monsieur Beulemeester, garde civique, both from 1913, works that marked the beginning of a very followed in Belgium, the ‘popular comedy’. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Belgian cinema was characterized by a phenomenon that will mark its development: the emigration of actors, directors and screenwriters to France, a trend that consolidated more and more over time. Among the actors who crossed the border are Berthe Bovy (interpreter in l’Assassinat du duc de Guise, 1908, by Charles Le Bargy and André Calmettes), Léon Mathot (known for films by Abel Gance and Germaine Dulac), Victor Francen (who worked with Gance and Marcel L’Herbier), Raymond Rouleau (actor of L’Herbier and Georg W. Pabst), Eve Francis (one of the most significant names in the French avant-garde of the 1920s, wife of Louis Delluc and protagonist of his films) and Madeleine Ozeray, who first established herself in the theater and then starred in the films of Pierre Chenal and Julien Duvivier. Among the most important screenwriters of Belgian nationality who moved to France are Charles Spaak and Albert Valentin. The first collaborated with Jean Renoir, Duvivier and Jacques Feyder; the other lent his work for Renoir and Jean Grémillon. The most famous Belgian exile was, however, the director J. Feyder: abandoned his country at the beginning of the 1910s, he moved to Paris where he became, between the 1920s and 1930s, one of the most famous and prestigious authors. characterizing Belgian cinematography between the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the following decade essentially contributed to documentary and experimental film. There were therefore numerous documentary makers: among others, André Cauvin and Gérard De Boe, especially for the ‘colonial’ documentary. Major filmmakers,
Dekeukeleire, a director with a very rich production (about eighty films), made a significant innovation of the cinematographic language with the shorts Combat de boxe (1927), Impatience (1928), Histoire de détective (1929) and Flamme blanche (1930). These works, made with limited means, focused on visual experiments released from a precise narrative line, essentially based on a rhythmic montage and on the experimental use of overlays and blurry shots. After Terres brûlées (1934), Dekeukeleire masterfully combined the documentary approach (the careful investigation, even from a folkloric point of view, of a Flemish social reality) with fiction (an unhappy love affair) in the film Het kwade oog (1936) also known by the French title Le mauvais œil.L ‘ Storck’s activity was initially influenced by Surrealism in the visual poems Pour vos beaux yeux (1929), La mort de Vénus (1930) and Trains de plaisir (1930); after making some editing films, the director then turned to the representation of his hometown, Ostend, with the documentaries Images d’Ostende (1930), Une pêche au hareng (1930) and Ostende reine des plages (1930), in to which particular attention to naturalistic elements is highlighted. However, his most important documentary, shot in collaboration with Joris Ivens, was Misère au Borinage (1933), characterized by the raw realism with which the difficult life of miners in the Belgian province of Hainaut is described. In the same year he was assistant director in Zéro de conduite (1933; Zero in conduct) by Jean Vigo. documentary). For Belgium 2009, please check hyperrestaurant.com.
The most famous directors of popular comedy were Gaston Shoukens (1901-1961) and Jan Vanderheyden (1890-1961). Shoukens had considerable commercial success, directing, between 1926 and 1961, eighteen feature films: he frequently represented trivial characters, often played by Gustave Libeau as, for example, in C’était le bon temps (1936), one of the greatest commercial successes in Belgium in the interwar years. Vanderheyden, on the other hand, mainly produced popular farces in the Flemish dialect which, of course, reached a much more limited audience than Shoukens’. The director was also the author of De Witte (1934), a work with a realistic narrative structure, a manifesto of ante litteram neorealism.
In the Belgian context, the film essay, a hybrid between experimental and documentary film, contained three different types: the film on art, which includes, in addition to the works of Storck, also those of Paul Haesaerts, an art critic and painter who in 1948 and 1972 he directed more than forty works on Flemish artists; the surrealist film, which he saw among the most important examples, after D’Ursel’s La perla, Ernest Moerman’s Monsieur Fantômas (1937) and Marcel Mariën’s Imitation du cinéma (1960); and finally the animated film. In the context of this last particular form, which had a significant development in Belgium, the emblematic figure of Edmond Bernhard should be remembered, author of only six short films, made between 1954 and 1972, including Échecs (1972), ‘logical’ movie.