20 The List l6-2‘) Jun l‘)‘)5
123211351— Brussel hearty
His movie, The Sexual Life Of The Belgians, may be unexpectedly sweet, but director Jan Bucquoy — also curator of Belgium’s Museum Of Underpants — is a bit of a
handful in real life, as Trevor
Think ‘Belgium‘ and you probably come up with a bit of a blank first off. Film-wise. there‘s always ‘The Muscles front Brussels‘. 01‘ Jean-Claude Van Damme himself. although celluloid sophisticates might have more time for Jaco Van Dormael‘s brilliant Tom the Hero. and your ftlmic nutters still carry a torch for the madcap Belgian threesome who brought you Man Bites Dug. Other than that. ‘Belgiumworld' in our mental theme-park would surely include lots of chocolate. mussels and monk- brewed killer beer. a few half-decent football teams at local and national level. and that guy who won the Tour de France a squillion times — Eddie Metycyx. Was he really Belgian? And was his name really spelt that way?
Basically. we‘re talking further up the league table of world achievement than Switzerland or
If there was a Nobel Prize for being mental, Bucquoy would be in there pitching, for this stubby, bespectacled,
slightly balding man’s multifarious . outrageous activities have made him the ' scourge of the Belgian establishment.
Liechtenstein. but not by much. And talking to a genuine Flanders-born person. it turns out that the Belgian psyche isn‘t too happy about it either. ‘1 don‘t think we have a real sense of identity about ourselves.‘ reckons filmmaker and self-styled cultural provocateur Jan Bucquoy (pronounced Boo- kwa). ‘We are the inventors of chips. We put mayonnaise on them. That's a big Belgian concept.‘
Actually. ifthere was a l 'obel Prize for being mental. Bucquoy would be in there pitching. for this stubby. bespectacled. slightly balding man is a ‘revolutionary surrealist‘ (his words) whose multifarious outrageous activities have made him the scourge of the Belgian establishment. Pornographic Tin-Tin comics'.’ He‘s been there. done that. He also led a gang that systematically flung custard pies into the faces of Belgium‘s best—known politicians. produced a radical newspaper notable for its cartoon depiction of the country‘s PM inﬂagt'ante with a pig. instituted and curated his own Museum of Underpants. and found himself banned from live radio and television after a notorious incident
The Sexual life (it The Belgians: “an episodic. slyly amusing self-portrait'
mocking the Royal Family. As if it wasn‘t enough to brandish a used tampon on screen and claim it was the Queen‘s. the talk show appearance that really got him in trouble was the time. just after the death of King Baudoin three years ago. when the host rather unwiser introduced him as ‘King of the Provocatcurs‘. ‘For me. you can't talk about provocation. you have do it.‘ chuckles the 49-year- old in recollection. ‘so I told him that I'd just been to the cemetery and l‘d brought him back a piece of the King‘s remains. Actually. I‘d been to the butcher‘s and bought a bloody big sheep‘s heart. so i took it out and squished it all over his face. The bits went all down his front and it was pretty disgusting. so much so that the guy called the police on live TV to get me ,' out of the studio. 1 got death threats on the telephone 5‘ after that.‘ i
Bucquoy says he‘s not a provocateur by nature. but ‘when society provokes me. I react!‘ Still. it was while waiting for the heat to die down that plans for
‘I don’t think we have a real sense of identity about ourselves. We are the inventors of chips. We put mayonnaise on them. That’s a big Belgian concept.’
his feature film tlebut came into focus. He‘d been to . film school back in the late ()(is and gone through his
lack of any real filmmaking infrastructure in Belgium j had militated against a career in celluloid. Now
Brakhage-intluenced ‘experimental‘ phase. but the
though. with a willing crew and a cast of actors and friends who were prepared to defer their fees. The Sevual Life of the Belgians [950—1978 (to give it its l full title) became a reality. No one had given the film much of a chance when he started raising money for it in I992. but this quasi-autobiographical story of a simple country boy‘s life as a failed revolutionary. stalled writer anti resplendently unprepossessing shag-beast has since run for over a year in Belgian cinemas. another tiny victory against the nay-sayers
who‘ve surrounded Jan Bucquoy most of his adult life. ‘When you transgress the rules. you have a confrontation with the power because they think you‘re going to get in their place.‘ he reflects. ‘So they make censorship. or they put you in jail. or they try to suppress you. After years of challenging authority. no state funding was going to give me any money for my film. That's why it‘s so powerful to be independent. On The Sexual Life oft/1e Belgians I raised the financing. made the movie myself and i even distributed it in Belgium.‘
Far from the brazen bonkfest the title might suggest however. Bucquoy‘s film is an episodic. slyly amusing self-portrait —- the lad himself played as your genuine St‘lI/llmp by one Jean-Henri Compere — which also takes in his domineering skinﬂint of a mother. and his variously successful attempts at enticing Belgian womanhood ‘twixt the sheets with him while he puts off changing the world for another night. By turns witty and poignant. it‘s a sweet and unexpected charmer of a film. that finds a vein of rare honesty as it juggles the grim reality ofcaravan sites and mayonnaise on your chips with Bucquoy‘s occasional flights of fancy and his obvious intention in instilling the power of free-thinking into as wide an audience as possible.
‘My origins are in Belgian surrealism which says that if you put two different realities together you can change the world.‘ reckons the sometime Dadaist poet whose act involves faking orgasm with a soft drinks can while mouthing suitably seductive thoughts (‘Maggie Thatcher. Helen Shapiro . . .'). ‘But although this film is very simple. with no big thesis. just a guy from a small town in Flanders living out his bourgeois contradictions and chasing women. it‘s really positive. It says go out into the streets. talk to people. make an adventure. make a new life. Time is short. God is dead. Who knows?‘ The Sexual Life Of The Belgians opens at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Friday 23 June and the Edinburgh Cameo (in Friday 7 July.