A controversial subject handled with great skill and sensitivity, Flemish Heaven (Le Ciel Flamand) takes its title from the main setting: one of those garishly lit brothels that can still be found on the outskirts of Belgian towns near the French border. But ‘Le Ciel Flamand’ seems less like a den of iniquity than a family business - which is what it is. Two generations of women run the place, making sure that the next generation - granddaughter Eline - has no contact with what goes on. But, left sitting in the car one day waiting for her mother, Eline can’t resist a peek - which (no spoilers) is where things really start to go wrong.
Director Peter Monsaert’s previous film, Offline, was a more or less successful slice of social realism about a former prisoner trying to reconnect with his family. Flemish Heaven is still realistic, but the directorial hand is much surer, making excellent use of Flanders’ flat countryside. Indoors, Monsaert’s camera stays very close to his three main characters (the mother, her solemn six-year-old daughter and bus driver ‘Uncle Dirk’), following the story into some tricky areas - and some of the places it goes are very nasty indeed. This powerful film’s strength lies in its unshowy performances, sensitive direction and the calm sympathy it has for its damaged characters. Don’t miss it.