The second movie version, now in color, of Flemish (heimat-)author Ernest Claes' classical novel, titled after the nickname (Dutch 'the White', referring to a blond male) of the main character. The smart but naughty farmhands son's eternal mischief, pranks and disobedience drive his elders (especially teachers, family and father's grumpy employer, a rich farmer, but also neighbors and even the kind curate whose liturgical server he is) and classmates to despair in a time when a boy's punishment was still inevitable, swift and often severe; thus when his mother catches him skinny dipping she takes all his clothes home, forcing him to a long walk of shame, dreading dad's wrath all the way. This version also stresses the story's social and Flamingant aspects.
Eric Clerckx ... De Witte
Blanka Heirman ... Moeder Witte
Paul-Emile Van Royen ... Leraar
Magda De Winter
Luc Philips ... Pastoor
Martha Dewachter ... Lisa
Robert Lussac (as Bob Storm)
Bob Van der Veken ... Mon
Jaak Van Assche ... Man in café
Chris Lomme ... Rosette
For me personally this movie is already interesting to watch just because it is situated and filmed in my own region. I liked the fact that for once I didn't watch a Belgian movie situated in some major city like Brussels or Antwerp, but one that was shot here, on the countryside, in some small towns and villages only a couple of kilometers from my own door. I easily recognized many 'points-of-interest' like the Basilica in Scherpenheuvel-Zichem, the old beguinage in Diest, the abbey in Averbode,... and that certainly gave this movie an extra touch for me.
In 1903, Louis or 'De Witte' as he is called by everyone, is a 12-year old kid who is always up to mischief and who always finds himself into trouble at home, in church, at school,... because of that behavior. He's the son of poor parents and will have to leave school in a couple of weeks time, so he can help them with work on the farm of a rich farmer who almost uses them as his personal slaves. Their lives consist of nothing more but hard labor and going to church, where they get to hear that once they are dead God will make no difference in rank or gender, but that until then they will have to accept everything the Church and their boss tells them. But socialism is getting more and more popular and several of the laborers start to have doubts about the way their lives are controlled by others. But De Witte doesn't care about all that. All he wants is reading about our ancient history and re-enacting it with his friends...
"De Witte" is one of those movies that every Dutch speaking person over here has probably seen at least once. I saw the original version in black and white from 1934 once and this version a couple of times. Even though I like this version, I must say that I liked that original version better (although it is already too long ago to remember it very well). The reason for that is that this movie had a couple of things that really bothered me a lot. Take for instance the language. They all speak Dutch in this movie, but all with dialects. That wouldn't have been a problem if all the actors spoke the same dialect, the one from this region, and if they had used subtitles for the people that wouldn't understand it. But no, they used dialects from all over the country, making it an unrealistic and unbelievable mix of languages. Those who aren't from the Dutch speaking part of Belgium will not even notice it, but I really didn't like it all that much. What I also didn't like was the ending of the movie. During the entire movie you get the idea that you are watching an historical drama and then it suddenly ends at the present time. I really wonder why that was necessary...
But not everything about this movie was bad of course. The acting for instance was OK. Eric Clerckx was interesting as De Witte, Luc Philips was nice in what might well have been his most famous role as Pastoor Munte and the other actors did a nice job too, including the many 'famous' people who got some small roles in this movie. I'm sure that every person who isn't from the North of Belgium, doesn't recognize them, but they were added to this movie to draw a larger crowd and they didn't do too bad. Also good was the biggest part of the story (except for the ending of course). It all felt realistic and gives a good idea of how life at the beginning of the twentieth century was like over here.
Overall this isn't a bad movie and it still is one of our classics. I liked it and I had a good time watching it, although it was far from perfect. That's why I give it a rating in between 7/10 and 7.5/10.
De Witte Van Sichem is one of the most popular (perhaps THE most popular) movie ever made in Flanders - Belgium. I'm also quite sure that it's one of the only movies that practically every Dutch speaking Belgian has seen...The movie is rather 'empty' when it comes to plot but it's fun and it gives quite a good portrait of my country around the year 1900. It's based on the work of Ernest Claes who was a famous writer here. This version wasn't the first movie about the character of 'De Witte' ( which the leading character is nick-named due to his white hair ). In 1934, there was a first movie about his adventures and the whole oeuvre of Claes was even filmed into a popular TV-series in which 'de Witte' appears as well. De Witte is a 12 year old brat. And I do mean a real brat...he lies, steals and causes disturbance in his class and family. He's the youngest son of a poor family. The whole neighborhood works almost like slaves for one rich farmer who has it all. Everybody is terrified to death for this farmer except for De Witte. He provokes him doesn't really care about the power the farmer has. The whole movie is set around the rise of socialism and that's like the leading thread running through the movie...the poor men are attracted by the idea of socialism while the Catholic church is desperately trying to bring it down. De Witte finds himself to be in the middle of this but he doesn't care. He prefers to learn about the national history and through the books of Hendrik Conscience.
Though nobody means anything in the international field, this movie is filled with famous Belgian faces. Everybody who ever meant something in Belgian show business appears in this movie. The whole story is set in a rural community thus the dialect is very specific and often difficult to understand ... even though it's your own language !! De Witte was directed by Robbe De Hert. Belgiums most controversial director. At least that's what he thinks of himself. I met him once when he was giving a lecture at my school. Anno 1980, when this film was shot, he was pretty mainstream if you ask me
`De Witte' is a typical Flemish film that gives the viewer an idea of how the conditions were at the beginning of this century in Flanders (this is the Dutch-speaking, Northern side of Belgium.) Director Robbe De Hert manages to create a realistic portrait of this particular atmosphere. It represents a world in which poor people have to work hard for little money. They work on the farm or in factories. People were very religious and went to church every Sunday wearing their best clothing. The father was a severe workingman; respected by his children and wife. If any of his children had said or done something wrong, they were to be punished. They were beaten and then they had to kneel on the floor facing the wall and praying for their sins.
But all this is just background information. The actual story is less dramatic. It's about an annoying little fellow who takes pleasure in doing wrong. There are certain rules in life everyone must obey, but he finds it amusing to bend or even break them whenever the opportunity knocks. In short: he has some serious trouble with discipline. Naturally, he is the main character of the film and goes by the name of `De Witte van Sichem' (literally translated: `The white-haired from Sichem'.)
Because of the many practical jokes and reckless pranks that endure throughout the entire film, `De Witte' becomes more and more of a comedy than a drama. Before you even know it, you've forgotten about the dark side of the film. Instead, it is the main character that claims your full attention. This is still, beyond any doubt, Robbe De Hert's best film. He hasn't made too many good films, but this one is a Belgian classic. Many good acting performances, but Eric Clerckx (as De Witte van Sichem) is 'picture perfect'.
- POSSIBLE SPOILERS - *
Two things I liked most about the film are: 1. The perfect mix between the drama at the background and the naughty behavior of the main character at the foreground. 2. De Witte's sudden interest in books and the church; this last item especially because of the beautiful singing of the church choir
Unfortunately, there are also a few minor things: 1. Somewhere in the film, a huge mistake is overlooked. At a certain moment in the film, when some kids are playing in a fort, the sound of an airplane is obviously heard. How could they have NOT heard that and then get rid of it? 2. There are also a few tiny mistakes in the bar sequence (where later a huge fight is about to arrive on the scene.) You should really keep an eye on the glasses. One moment they're full and the other moment (seen from a different camera position) they're almost empty. But these mistakes are so insignificant that they're not noticed by anyone the first time you see the film. (I only saw it the second time myself.)
All things considered `De Witte' is an enjoyable film, although it is probably of no interest to foreigners as the spoken language is Flemish. And the use of this particular dialect in this film is too important to be replaced by any other language; this would only mess up the entire picture.