4 Best Belgian Films Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

The Kid With A Bike is a deceptively simple title for a film this stirring. At 12 years old, Cyril (Thomas Doret) has been abandoned to social care by his father (Jérémie Renier) — but what’s really heart-wrenching is that he’s in denial about the finality of their separation. Cyril’s muscles are seemingly always coiled, ready to spring him away from his carers and onto the next bus that’ll take him to his disinterested dad, who has secretly moved away to “start anew.” It’s only through the random force of Cyril’s few words — like the moment he asks the first stranger to show him some kindness (Samantha, played by Cécile de France) if she’ll foster him on the weekends — that we get to sense the depth of his desperation, because neither the film nor Doret is showy in that regard.

The film pulls off transcendency because of these restrained performances and its unfussy realism. In the quietness of the storytelling, emotion hits unexpectedly — and deeply. The everyday tragedy and miraculous hope of Cyril’s life are set off by some enormously moving orchestral Beethoven, the very grandeur of which underscores the effect of the humanist filmmaking: affirming the inherent preciousness of his troubled, oft-rejected child.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Baptiste Sornin, Cécile de France, Fabrizio Rongione, Jérémie Renier, Myriem Akheddiou, Olivier Gourmet, Samuel De Rijk, Thomas Doret

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Rosetta begins fiercely, with a shaky handheld camera chasing the eponymous teenager (Émilie Dequenne) as she storms across a factory floor and bursts into a room to confront the person she believes has just lost her her job. The film seldom relents from this tone of desperate fury, as we watch Rosetta — whose mother is a barely functioning alcoholic — fight to find the job that she needs to keep the two alive.

As tough as their situation is, though, Rosetta’s fierce sense of dignity refuses to allow her to accept any charity. A stranger to kindness and vulnerability, her abject desperation leads her to mistake these qualities for opportunities to exploit, leading her to make a gutting decision. But for all her apparent unlikeability, the movie (an early film from empathy endurance testers the Dardenne brothers) slots in slivers of startling vulnerability amongst the grimness so that we never lose sight of Rosetta’s ultimate blamelessness. Its profound emotional effect is corroborated by two things: that it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and that it helped usher in a law protecting the rights of teenage employees in its setting of Belgium.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anne Yernaux, Bernard Marbaix, Émilie Dequenne, Fabrizio Rongione, Frédéric Bodson, Mireille Bailly, Olivier Gourmet

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Rating: R

Our Children opens at the harrowing end of the true story it’s based on: with the image of a distraught mother (Émilie Dequenne) in a hospital bed, begging a police officer to ensure that her children — who have just predeceased her — are buried in Morocco. From this ominous beginning, the film rewinds into a jarringly sunny flashback of lovebirds Murielle (Dequenne) and Mounir (Tahar Rahim) to tell this horrifying story from the start.

What follows is much less obviously dramatic: Our Children shifts into slow-burn psychological thriller territory as we watch the gradual breaking down of Murielle at the hands of Mounir’s adoptive father André (Niels Arestrup), a wealthy white doctor who has used his status to insinuate himself into the lives of Mounir and his family back home in Morocco. This is a very subtle study of manipulation, one that hinges entirely on the performances of the trio, who fill with nuance roles that could easily have been tabloid caricatures. Above all, though, this is Dequenne’s film, and it’s the devastating ways she shows the life gradually being sucked out of Murielle that makes Our Children so difficult to shake off.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Baya Belal, Claire Bodson, Émilie Dequenne, Mounia Raoui, Niels Arestrup, Redouane Behache, Stéphane Bissot, Tahar Rahim

Director: Joachim Lafosse

Rating: NR

This movie originally caught my eye for all the attention it got at the Cannes festival, but I assure you, all of the hype is more than warranted. Two Days, One Night takes you on an emotional journey with Sandra, recovering from depression and ready to get back to work, when she discovers that her co-workers, having to choose between receiving a bonus and Sandra keeping her job, hold her fate in their hands. And thus, barely convinced herself and with her husband as her only support, she sets out on an unlikely mission to convince the people to vote against the bonus so that she still has a salary. This movie will strike a chord for anyone who has encountered depression or even simply tried to understand the abstract concept that it is. Marion Cotillard flawlessly portrays through Sandra the desperate struggle of having to put up a fight despite the utter hopelessness that she finds herself drowning in. At strife with herself, watching her try even though every cell in her body has given up, is gut-wrenching and awe-inspiring at the same time. Before long Sandra's fight on the lay-off and on her own hopelessness seem to blur together. Whether she wins, is what keeps you hooked to the very end.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alain Eloy, Baptiste Sornin, Batiste Sornin, Ben Hamidou, Catherine Salée, Christelle Cornil, Christelle Delbrouck, Fabrizio Rongione, Laurent Caron, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Marinne, Myriem Akeddiou, Myriem Akheddiou, Olivier Gourmet, Philippe Jeusette, Pili Groyne, Simon Caudry, Tom Adjibi, Yohan Zimmer

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Rating: PG-13