The Belgians to the Front


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More up icon. Why do some Belgians want to become French? Is it just for the money? Certain ideas of Europe Jul 30th by Charlemagne. Reuse this content About The Economist. Old friends meet again America and China resume talks in a bid to end their trade war Donald Trump holds off on further tariffs and gives Huawei a reprieve.

Subscribe now. Each week, over one million subscribers trust us to help them make sense of the world. Subscribe to The Economist today or Sign up to continue reading five free articles. He would eventually have turned his gaze upon Belgium anyway, but it was the French entry into the war that forced his hand.


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French defenses along the border with Germany were stronger than ever. The Maginot Line, a vast system of concrete fortresses, stood ready to hold off the Nazi hordes. The French had seemingly forgotten the German strategy of the previous war. Rather than risk a diplomatic incident with Belgium, they left their border with that country clear. Hitler adopted the plan of his predecessors — an invasion of France through Belgium. Again, they started by tackling the fortresses defending Belgian cities. A crack team of glider-borne paratroopers landed on the roof of the Eben Emael fortress.

Within an hour, they had destroyed the guns of the imposing emplacement. It and other airborne operations paved the way for an advance by four army corps and one armored corps. While bombing struck terror into the population, they swept forward. Meanwhile, the main attack came further south. German armored columns raced through the Ardennes forest, crossing Luxembourg and southern Belgium. The Allies had considered the area impassable to an army. They were proven badly wrong. German forces emerged from the forest to attack the weakest part of the Allied lines.

By May 19, the British were preparing for a retreat. On the 25 th , they ordered their troops to withdraw to Dunkirk for evacuation. Without British assistance, Belgium could not stand.

Second, the representations of the war in post-war Belgian cinema are explored against the background of the concepts of cultural mobilization and demobilization. The cinematic images of the war are considered from a cultural-historical perspective, and post-war cinema is established as a particular site of memory. The article reflects the status quaestionis of current research in the field and indicates interesting online and offline sources and archives. In studies of wartime culture and occupation , cinema is often mentioned as one of the most popular pastimes of the population in occupied Belgium.

Drawing on existing as well as new research, this article deals with film production, cinema-going and film culture during the war on the one hand, and with representations of the war in post-war Belgian cinema on the other. Consequently, cinema-going from to happened differently in occupied Belgium than in Free Belgium. Theater owners were not only subject to different legislations, they also depended on different film distribution networks and consequently on different films, different film stars and different audiences.

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When counting the experiences of Belgian refugees in mainly the Netherlands [3] and the United Kingdom , [4] and those of the Belgian prisoners of war held in camps in Germany, the picture becomes increasingly more diverse and complex. So far, only fragmented research has been done on these different "theaters of war. In the years preceding the Great War, Belgium was known for its lively cinema culture.

Yser Front

In , the country counted no less than movie theaters. The situation changed drastically with the outbreak of the war in August During the chaotic first months of the occupation, many movie theaters closed down. In October and November , Germany established censorship -laws that applied to almost all media distributed in Belgium, such as texts, pictures, sheet music, theater plays, newspapers , and included film. It was decreed that any communication or work of art not explicitly authorized was implicitly banned. Since there had officially been no censorship before the war, cinema owners were initially reluctant to abide by the newly established German regulations.

They feared that after the war, the Belgian government would yield to the pressure of religious groups objecting to the supposedly detrimental influence of movies and the cinemas in which they were screened on children and young people and force official censorship on them. Eventually, most cinema owners conceded and continued business under the new circumstances. By mid, most cinemas were back in business. By December , there were approximately 1, cinemas in the entire territory. While the feature film was rising in the United States, most theaters in war-stricken Belgium stuck to variety programming, combining medium length and short films with live music, dance and comedy acts.

For fear of propagandistic content, importing films from allied countries was no longer permitted. As most films had been imported from France and Italy before the war, sourcing films from the United States which remained possible until was not very well established yet in , and so the depletion of regular imports confronted cinema owners with scarcity. However, all pre-war allied productions submitted to the censors before mid-May were still accepted, as can be seen for example in the contintuous resurfacing of rehashed pre-war serials e.

Polycarpe, KriKri, alias Patachon and sometimes American shorts e. Gradually, German, Hungarian and Danish films and their stars replaced French, British and later also American films on the Belgian screens. The ban on allied films not only negatively impacted the French film industry, but also positively affected the German film business. After the founding of the Bild- und Filmamt Bufa in in Germany established a firm hold on the Belgian film market. The so-called Flamenpolitik , a policy aimed at aligning Flemish and German interests, had to facilitate this.

Whereas before the war, cinema had largely been a French-language pastime, it now became obligatory to feature bilingual inter-titles for films shown in Flanders. It is difficult to find out what version of the films was actually screened, but film programs in the press suggest that this regulation was not always observed. Censorship was not only established for film distribution and exhibition, film production was equally targeted. The latter was not very difficult to control, given the embryonic state of national film production.

The French director Alfred Machin became artistic leader as well as the sole director working for the firm. Next to Isidore Moray? In , he made his magnum opus : Maudite Soit la Guerre is a Griffithian story of two friends from unnamed neighboring countries, who are separated by war and end up killing each other unknowingly as airmen fighting on different sides.

Though the countries in the film were never named, the film was clearly referring to the existent pre-war tensions. In its depiction of war, it oscillated between traditional warfare — huge cavalry and ground army charges - and modern warfare — demonstrated in the film by reconnaissance flights, air duels and air bombardments. The film eerily foreshadowed the events that would hit Belgium only a few months later in August After the German invasion, life in the occupied territory was heavily controlled by the occupier, making private initiatives for independent film production virtually impossible.

Consequently the production of narrative films ceased. Belgian newsreel pioneer Hippolyte De Kempeneer , however, continued to shoot documentary footage, as he had been doing since before the war.

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As of summer , many professional cameramen working for foreign newsreels on both sides of the front began shooting images of the war in Belgium. Official film units were the military answer to the many commercial newsreel firms active at the front.

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By the end of the war, they were responsible for the official Belgian newsreel Yser Journal. In occupied Belgium, the Germans tried their hand at using film for propaganda purposes. In the scope of the German Flamenpolitik , film was considered a marginal but relevant way to target Flemish audiences and to propagate Flemish identity and concerns. Although comprising more than half of the population, the Flemish were culturally, linguistically as well as politically dominated by a French-speaking elite.

With its Flamenpolitik, Germany tapped into Flemish discontent about this situation. From spring , Bufa film crews shot several documentaries in and about Flanders. The book, which recounted the events of the Battle of the Golden Spurs in , in which the French nobility was defeated by the Flemish troops, is considered the romantic and mythical basis of Flemish nationalism.

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The project was supported by several Flemish nationalist groups [20] and individuals, but although many practical and financial arrangements had been made, it never materialized. After the war, the film industry was slowly rebuilt. The first post-war feature film was La Belgique Martyre, a patriotic drama directed by Charles Tutelier ? La Belgique Martyre is the first in a series of eleven patriotic dramas produced in Belgium between and With the exception of the films made by De Kempeneer's Compagnie Belge six patriotic dramas out of a total of twenty-five films , the films were independent productions made by enthusiasts attracted by the novelty of the emerging motion picture industry, De Kempeneer's success and a deeply felt patriotism.

Their tone was largely in tune with current official and popular discourses on the war, in which recognition and commemoration played a central role: the government organized well-attended state funerals for civilian martyrs; communes and cities erected monuments that were often financed by public inscription to commemorate the fallen; and numerous war diaries, tributes and hagiographies were published.

National symbols for example the Belgian flag, the king, the national anthem and supposed national virtues like courage, heroism, duty and patriotism were omnipresent and set in stark contrast with the image of the enemy, who was characterized as a traitor and barbarian. Instead of making clear political demands, the filmmakers chose to settle things symbolically, and so while numerous German characters died accidental or even "deserved" deaths, their Belgian counterparts were cast as the injured party who, nonetheless, reveled in justice having been restored.

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