Understanding the collaboration without looking for culprits
The screen version of Luk Perceval’s play ‘Yellow’ is a grim black and white film about a Flemish family that ends up in collaboration. “Hitler is not going to forget the Flemish!”
More than a thousand tickets were sold at the beginning of this week for the online premiere of ‘Yellow: The Sorrows of Belgium II: REX’, which was shown yesterday on the NTGent website. That is more than decent for the film version of a play, a viewing form that we still have to get used to after a year of cultural screen watching because of the pandemic. A little theater fan will understand why: a play is not yet a Netflix movie.
There was also a lot of interest in the new piece by Luk Perceval in the foreign press. International newspapers such as The New York Times, Le Monde and the Süddeutsche Zeitung requested a review copy of the film. The reason for this is not far to find. Perceval has built up a great reputation in the international performing arts from Europe’s theater bastion Germany over the past twenty years. Since NTGent, under the direction of its Swiss director Milo Rau, charms the international stages and media with controversial performances about extreme excesses of human behavior, the city theater has been closely monitored.
A teaser of NTGent’s ‘Yellow’.
‘Yellow’ is the second part of Perceval’s trilogy about Belgian trauma. The first part ‘Black’ was about the bloodshed in Congo, the third ‘Red’ starts from the attacks in Brussels. ‘Yellow’ was supposed to have premiered last year, but the pandemic put a stop to that. During the first lockdown, NTGent posted a two-hour conversation between historian Bruno De Wever and the makers on its Facebook page. Very moved, the brother of N-VA chairman Bart De Wever told about his membership of the Flemish National Youth Association (VNJ). The historian’s message was also one of nuance, certainly about the role of the Flemish movement in collaboration with the Nazis.
No moral judgment
The second part of Luk Perceval’s theater trilogy about dark passages in Belgian history. Edited as a two-hour film for the occasion. The (even longer) theater version is for later this spring, if circumstances allow.
‘Yellow’ offers a nuanced look at Flemish collaboration, a bit unexpected because Perceval likes to provoke. Due to the varied camera angles you rarely have the feeling that you are looking at a play. Thanks to the cameraman Daniel Demoustier, a fighter on many war fronts.
On the NTGent website, www.ntgent.be. A ticket costs 12 euros.
Exciting what that would give with someone like Perceval, who likes to and consciously explore the edges in his performances to challenge his audience. Perceval and his dramaturges seem to have listened carefully. Unlike ‘Black’, they do not fall into the trap of moral correctness. ‘Black’ wanted to be too much of a whip and overburden us with guilt about what happened in Congo. ‘Yellow’ does not pass a moral judgment on the collaboration, but tries to understand why people were seduced by the Nazi ideology.
On stage is a Flemish family split in two by the departure of a family member to the Eastern Front. Jef, whom we do not get to see, was a quiet boy who was always in the books. His mother (Chris Thys) is terrified of losing him.
‘Hitler is not going to forget the Flemish! When I was still young, I was already on that train, ‘says his uncle, a priest, played by the never-disappointing Oscar Van Rompay. He represents the part of Catholic Flanders that embraced Nazism because of its anti-communism. But there is also his other uncle, who is protecting a Jewish girl. The family is also haunted by the shadow of the grandfather who was only roared in French at the front in the First World War.
Much of the performance glorifies Nazism. ‘Deutschland über alles’ is sung lustily. There is an officer from the Waffen SS. The capitulated part of the family listens to his stories with pricked ears. And then there is the Walloon collaborator Léon Degrelle. He charms with his explanation of why French-speaking Belgians belonged to the large Germanic family.
Much of the performance glorifies Nazism.
Yellow does not look for guilty parties. If the makers intended to explain that it is not always possible to explain why someone makes the wrong ideological choice, they have succeeded. The two-hour film does demand a lot from the viewer. The theater version is then another 20 minutes longer.
The good thing about this screen version is that as a viewer you rarely have the feeling that you are watching a theater performance. Cameraman Daniel Demoustier, a fighter of many wars, uses a lot of close-ups and also filmed in the NTGent building. Nevertheless, we would have preferred to see ‘Yellow’ in a crowded theater room: for the mesmerizing music of Sam Gysel, or to discover how a slack and tired people react to the festive performance of a burnt national anthem.