Belgium, 2011, 93 mins
Antwerp Central takes the viewer on a journey through the physical and mental space of Antwerp’s railway cathedral, from its construction to the present day. Drawing inspiration from the book Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald, screenwriter/director Peter Krüger approaches Antwerp Central Railway Station as a magical realistic location where past and present, history and daily life, fiction and reality are in constant flux. Antwerp Central is a film in which visual observations occasion historical, humoristic and poetic reflections on Antwerp’s railway cathedral.
The documentary Antwerp Central seems a crude description of the physical building its title refers to. It not only deals with the building itself but also with its surroundings, its history, its functioning, and its meaning. Guiding us through all this is an anonymous Traveller, performed by Flemish actor Johan Leysen.
He seems to function both as a bewildered visitor looking around in awe and as an omniscient narrator/God (“It had clearly been the intention…”), leading us through the stories, introducing us to experts, and sharing his philosophical contemplations. In the end however he seems most like one of the dead characters in The Sixth Sense or A Beautiful Mind: he doesn’t really communicate with the people he introduces, there’s no dialogue. We see him, but nobody else does. Documentaries are often inductive in character: the specific presented is related or refers to something more general. It can address the dilemma between the complexity of local, everyday phenomena and an explanation that surpasses the mere materiality of it. Viewing Antwerp Central also made me think of the concept of excess: that which is beyond the narrative of a film.