Regarding Marion Hänsel

Marion the writer, director, actor, tightrope-walker, family woman, producer, swimmer, and what have you? Marion the jack-of-all-trades.

Not because she lusts for power, but simply because she enjoys the artistic challenge and wants to indulge in work that is the most faithful to her project, without deformation or butchering by the diktats issued by producers who claim to know better than anyone what will ‘work’ in cinemas. Most other quality directors of her generation in French-speaking Belgium happen to be their own producers as well (Jaco Van Dormael, the brothers Dardenne).

The first time I met her, Marion was busy preparing her first film, a short, Equilibres. She had launched herself into the unknown, just like the main protagonist of her film. Just like her, she did not hesitate, ready to fight, to walk through hell on a tightrope. I was seduced by her character, her charisma, her strength. Might I add, as the lawyer that I was, that I was also seduced by her charm, her sensuality, her round and smiling face, her beautiful arms and her eyes, always trained on the other?

Equilibres, entirely symbolic. The notion of a fragile line between two worlds, which would mark a whole body of work yet to come. The fragile line between life and death (Le lit), between madness and normalcy, between childlike innocence and the wounds of adolescence (Les noces barbares), between truth and lies (Il maestro), love and the end of love (La tendresse).

A Belgian Cosmopolitan

Another permanent dialogue Marion has kept going is between the image and the written word. She has often used writers for inspiration, and writers of high calibre, such as Dominique Rolin, Mario Soldati, Yann Queffélec, Damon Galgut, Nikos Kavvadias and J.M. Coetzee. Writers from all over the world, because Marion cannot stay put in one place, not in a little corner in Belgium. Like Tintin, she is a (rather) candid little Belgian whose adventures take her around the planet: South Africa (Dust, The Quarry), Hong Kong (Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea), Italy (Il maestro), the Horn of Africa (Si le vent soulève les sables), the Pacific (Noir océan), Croatia (En amont du fleuve).

  • Still: Dust

A paradox: born in Marseille, she feels the need to film water (it is a protagonist in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, Noir océan, En amont du fleuve and of course, Il était un petit navire) but she is equally fascinated by the sand, the desert, arid landscapes (her African films).

Language matters little to her: she uses French, English, African languages, etc., in her work. Bizarrely, only Dutch is rarely heard (with the exception of her beautiful filmic memory, Il était un petit navire). After all, this woman raised in Antwerp and educated both in Dutch and French is one of the last filmmakers who dare to affirm that they are Belgian – neither French-speaking nor Flemish, but Belgian (just like André Delvaux, godfather of modern Belgian cinema, and who, like Marion, was a ‘bastard’ of the two main communities in this country).

One more word on the splendid gaze Marion trains on us, filled with curiosity, expectation, freshness, force. The gaze of an adventurer, not just exploring territories (as in her filmography) but also essentially studying people. Men, women – she wants to get to know them, understand them, appreciate them, discover the different ways human beings can be; people possessed by an inner world, by madness, above all by passion. This is what makes her characters so profound, so human, tender and violent, often contradictory and with plenty of hidden scars. Which is also a portrait of Marion!

Written by Alain Berenboom. Alain Berenboom is a Belgian lawyer, author of novels and a lifelong friend of Marion Hänsel. In 1976 he undertook the defence of Nagisa Oshima’s film Ai no korīda (In the Realm of the Senses). In 1984 he wrote the first Belgian treaty on copyright law and has since remained the preeminent specialist on that subject.

Photo in header: Marion Hänsel