DIRECTOR: STIJN CONINX
COUNTRY: Belgium, France,Netherlands 1992
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Walther van den Ende
MUSIC: Dirk Brosse
CAST: Jam DeClaie, Gerard Desarthe, Antje de Boeck, Michael Pas, Johan Leysen, Jaooe Claes, Idwig Stephane, Brit Alen
SUPER FEATURES: Excellent Story. Pointed Film
Some films come around once in a while, and rather than re-affirm an entertainment value for your money, they, give us, instead something that is less fun to deal with, but no less important. This film, walks into that category, and instead of trying to be politically correct, where an American audience might enjoy it, it uses every inch of baseball bats to punch its point home... and nothing is sacred here.
The story of Priester Daens, who in the late 19th Century, found himself at odds with his peers, but most of all, he was not at odds with any parishioners, who enjoyed listening to him. Like many priests, they talk and talk, and never say anything of value. Daens has woken up to listening to those around him, even if they don't understand him, or vice versa. And one day, he is walking the streets and sees a little girl, who had frozen to death over night. She was another victim, not only of most people's moral stance of hypocrisy, but the local church's desire to support only the causes that it is favored for, that is, the rich people's causes.
Priester Daens, becomes involved with the a couple of families, and eventually takes up a stand in favor of the families, who are now raising children simply to put them to work in factories, at a very early age. The wages are horrible, and the working hours are worse. But this is a dangerous fight. The rich class, is powerful, and they own the government. The workers are being manipulated, and moved around, and their emotions played with. But Daens' efforts, bring about a Government Commission, to visit to look at things. No one believes them, but Daens thinks it's a good first step.
But the war only starts further down the line. An adversary, Charles Woeste, is a hell bent politician, and his best work is in deals with the church. He has been asking for the church to defrock Daens, and make an effort to stop him. Figuring that the defrocked priest could not pull off what he is doing as well, and the public will forget about it. But Daens, doesn't quit. He is eventually asked to go to Rome, to see the Pope, but this is nothing but a stalling tactic to try and make him lose time, and effort in his work in Flanders. When he comes back, he becomes a part of the local election, and finds that the vote was inordinately in favor of him, which gets the parliament worried. They lie, and invalidate the vote. Another vote is done, and Daens is elected. His war is just beginning. Charles Woester, is his bitter enemy, and while discussing the plight of the poor, he never fails to comment on the poor's needs for more money. The worst one comes later when Daens wants schools created to educate all people, and Woester states his vile breath .. "what are the poor going to do with an education ( all laugh around him ), buy another _____ (bigger laugh)" ... and we know that the real stench that Daens is fighting is not going to be over very soon.
Amidst serious political games, this film plods along. Its tightly packed story, becomes all the more confusing, but never the less powerful. In many ways, it shows us how busy Daens was all the time, and how so many things tried to help him and stop him at the same time. There is a serious sub plot between a socialist group and the other mainly catholic group, of which a Romeo and Juliet story is developing. And Woeste has his own "bucks", who are the sons of rich people, who take law into their own hands many times. But worse of all is the renegade cavalry, that also takes the law into its own hands, assaulting people, and probably telling parliament that the people scared the horses. The "bucks" are bent on hurting the socialist activities, but worse, they decide to work on Daens' activities instead. They go after Daens' brother's newspaper, which Daens has been using for a while and writing his articles that are inflaming the upper class.
The worst thing in this film, and something that the church will never repent for, is its inability to be worthless and pray on people's emotions. In a sermon, Daens speaks of Christ, and the rich class begins walking out of the church right in front of all the poor people. In Italy, the Vatican comes off as petty, political, and just a painted building. And in parliament, Daens, finds himself ridiculed amidst nobles that couldn't careless but for their own fortune. And the king, who sits above it all and says that all those beneath him are responsible for all the troubles.
While not a very pleasant film, this is so strong, and unrelenting, that it is difficult to look at it and think it is not good. The balancing act, works, between the political fashions, and how Daens is lucky enough to get both of them to break, long enough, that they can find a cause that they can fight together to win, rather than lose... and the fight for the worker's, has to be fought with them, not without them, or their bickering. Daens states, in a heightened moment, that this is not about ideas, or beliefs, it's about your faith, and your life. It shuts their
arguments out immediately.
The film ends with an epitaph, telling us that Daens won a second term in the parliament before he dies just prior to the First World War.
A very powerful film, that does not let up. Words are important here, as they are used as vicious weapons all over the place. And the inner workings of the factories, a game that rich people played, is even more unpleasant.
4 of 5 GIBLOONS
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