Title: De verbeelding van de Eerste Wereldoorlog in de Belgische speelfilm (1913-1939).
Authors: Engelen, Leen
Issue Date: 20-May-2005
Series Title: KUL. Nieuwe reeks van doctoraten in de sociale wetenschappen vol:84
Abstract: This cultural and film history research project focuses on a series ofBelgian fiction films made in the interwar period that have the FirstWorld War as a theme. By means of an intertextual model of filmanalysis – that is rooted in a contextual approach and integratesconcepts stemming from film analysis, cultural history and film history– two main questions were answered. First, the project addressed thequestion of how the films being scrutinized represented a historicalevent, in this case, the Great War. Second, the study examined how thefilms reflected the time in which they were produced – theinterwar period.Which past is represented in the films? The Great War was not amonolithic experience, and thus neither were the films representing thewar. Still, there are a number of representational elements running asa leading thread through the films. Consequently, it is possible tospeak of a canonical cinematic representation of the war. This dominantdiscourse is characterised by fanatic Belgian patriotism. Moreover, theBelgian nation and its citizens are represented as an unquestionedunity: religious, communitarian and political disagreements are of noimportance. The patriotic spirit and deeds of the Belgians arerepresented only in a positive way. The films explain their good natureand brave disposition as the essence of their national identity. TheGerman enemy, on the contrary, is visualised as having a dumb andunjust nature with an inborn disposition to cruelty. Germany and allthings German are treated alike.The dominant discourse leaves little space for ambiguity or nuance. Itis clear that it isn’t totally in tune with the acknowledged historicalfacts. Nevertheless, among the films there exists a consensus on thisversion of the facts. The dominant cinematic discourse, however, is notcompletely static, but changes over time: certain elements come to thefront, while others disappear in the background. The explanation forthese changes can be found in the interwar period.The research indicates that national and international socio-politicalevolutions and mobilising and demobilising tendencies within warculture had an especially large impact on the cinematic representationof the war. These relations proved to be extremely complex. Popularfilms are not always in tune with the political agenda. In times ofnational crises, films often prefer to stress the national unityinstead of probing for the underlying reasons of disunity. In times of(inter)national reconciliation, on the contrary, the films seem to holdon to tensions and oppositions rooted in war culture.At the end of the 1920s, the cinematic consensus was subjected to firefrom within. Pacifist and Flemish-nationalist film productionsquestioned the patriotic discourse of popular film. By attacking theideological consensus, these films lost their populist thrust as wellas the popular audience. The ideologically subversive nature of thefilms finds an expression in the genre: bittersweet melodrama andthrilling detective stories are replaced by compilation of newsreelfootage. Regarding their production as well as their exhibition, thesefilms are completely marginalised. Clearly, critical discourses on thewar could only manifest themselves in a highly politicised orartistic-intellectual circuit.As far as Flemish-nationalism is concerned, one could speak of aseparate discourse of memory and remembrance, with separate heroes,milestones, issues and debates. There exists very little interactionbetween the dominant patriotic discourse and its Flemish-nationalistcounterpart. While the dominant cinematic discourse completely ignoresthe existence of alternative discourses, the Flemish-nationalist filmsundermine the hegemony of the patriotic discourse by attacking itdirectly.Without any doubt, the patriotic discourse remains dominant in theBelgian war films of the interwar period. Alternative visions aretotally marginalised. But as mentioned before, the dominant cinematicdiscourse is not always in tune with the political agenda. As theAmerican writer Anthony Giardina wrote in the New York Times:‘wars don’t end when the last shot is fired or a treaty signed.They end when the movies tell us they have ended.’
Description: Departement Communicatiewetenschap. Centrum voor Mediacultuur en communicatietechnologie (OE)
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Institute for Media Studies
LUCA School of Arts
UC Limburg - miscellaneous
Audiovisuele kunsten LUCA-Fac.Kunsten

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