How does one talk about a film that feels a little too perfect, too clean, maybe even too thought-out? A part of me wants to shake it up a bit, welcome a few rough edges in the way pictures meet pictures.
Elegantly-crafted Gods of Molenbeek does everything right, uses imaginative visual ledes, shot from the point of view of young children, but it can feel like so many films that have a dozen producers and funders involved: ironed out and cleaned up. It is a great example, however, of how to introduce all sorts of thoughts about God, gods and eternity to a young audience.
The Finnish director, Reetta Huhtanen accompanies two boys, and sometimes a girl, all about the age of 6, who discover different ways of thinking about and worshiping god(s), and speculate about what happens after death and other cosmological matters.
The boys live in the same building and toodle around in the courtyard below, never seem to be still, and chatter away.
Aatos and Amine are deep thinkers, bright and curious. Though neighbours, they come from totally different backgrounds. Aatos is Finnish and Chilean, he speaks French, Finnish and Spanish and attends a Steiner school; Amine comes from a observant Moroccan Muslim family, possibly attends a public school, and is seen in a classroom learning Arabic ( it isn’t uncommon in Brussels for Arabic to be available as an elective language in public schools).
So what does childhood look and sound like for children growing up in a densely populated, multi-ethnic neighbourhood that has been labelled by the hot press to be a centre of jihadist activity? The director responds by keeping her point of view as close to that of the boys, as possible.
Molenbeek is felt day to day in this film, from the perspective of the children.
Filming children can be tricky business especially if they are very young; all the power lies with the filmmakers. Gods of Molenbeek is a best-practice example of how to film children with respect: they have room to express themselves, the camera doesn’t exploit moments of distress – the lens doesn’t pry unfairly – and the camera is usually lower than the children’s heads with the lens often tilted upward, making them look powerful. The boys . . .
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