9 February 2002 | ken_vandenbussche
Comical drama of superlative quality
"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. Also many good acting performances, but Eric Clerckx (as De Witte van Sichem) is 'picture perfect'.
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.