A little over a year ago i visited the Belgian village Doel with a friend. A rather surreal place as it’s threatened to be demolished because of the expansion of the port of Antwerp causing a lot of people to leave which basically makes it a ghost town, because of that it was also a place that made an impact on me and when i saw that there was a documentary about Doel i didn’t hesitate and ordered it.
The documentary is made by Dutch director Tom Fassaert, who decided to shoot this after visiting Doel about 6 years ago. The entire documentary is shot in black and white on 16mm which adds to the dreary, grey, and cold feeling you get when you watch this documentary. He focusses on the people in Doel and not really on the events, so a little context or background on the Doel subject is necessary to completely comprehend the subject.
Emilienne is one of the few inhabitants left in Doel, she is 75 years old and a widow who has been living in Doel for most of her life. We mainly see her either looking outside when yet another building is being torn down, feeding the stray neighbor cats or sitting at her kitchen table with her friends and neighbors. A small group of people that gets smaller and smaller as the documentary progresses. We also see the pastor of the village, and old man whose chemo therapy has stopped and who is terminally ill. Yet he still tries to do his task for the community in and outside of his church.
The filmmaker isn’t interfering by asking questions, he just observes and records the conversations and emotions. Near the end of the documentary the loneliness of Emilienne is becoming more obvious as, unlike in the beginning, she starts to talk more and more to the camera. What this documentary does well in my opinion is the fact you really feel sorry for Emilienne, while she is basically just a very stubborn old lady that refuses to leave. She disregards letters that tell her to move out. She gets her hopes up high (too high) when the mayor gives her good news. You sometimes wonder why she does this to herself, staying while all her friends and But it is all understandable, she has a nice house with a big yard where she can keep her chickens and other small animals and she can receive her children and grandchildren (even though you never see them visit her). And at her age she doesn’t want change anymore. She just wants to stay in her own village, even if it means she will be all alone there. It’s sad to see her talking about wanting a house in a forest, but not too big because she wouldn’t be able to maintain it when it’s almost sure that she will end up alone in some small apartment downtown or in an elderly home.
With a story that is both sad as (unintendedly) hilarious and an amazing eye for details this is a very worthwhile and recommended documentary.
It may not be easy to find this documentary for people outside Belgium or Holland, as far as i know at the moment Bol (the Dutch Amazon) is the only one carrying it.