What do I know of Flanders?
We can start with the famous poem by Lieutenant Colonel John McRae, written in May of 1915 during The Great War (1914-1918), or as it is called here in the USA – World War I. McRae was a Canadian military doctor and an artillery commander. One of McRae’s friends had just been killed by an exploding artillery shell near Ypres, in West Flanders, Belgium. As the chaplain was off base, McRae himself led the burial service. Following that he was inspired to author this poem:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
My knowledge of Flanders also includes some famous Flemish painters like Pieter Bruegel the Elder whose most famous work is called The Dutch Proverbs.
We can easily state that this depiction of life (circa 1559 is not exactly a walk in the park.
Then there was Jan van Eyck famed for his earthly realism combined with spiritual symbolism, and
Peter Paul Rubens who specialized in extravagant Baroque style works many of which are far too voluptuous and detailed to be adequately displayed on these pages..
Now those above are mainly just factoids. I have in fact traveled in Flanders which is a region in Northern Belgium, bordering with The Netherlands. I boarded the Thalys High Speed train in Amsterdam Centraal Station bound for Paris.
I stepped off the train at Paris Gare du Nord in just over 3 hours after passing through Flanders and even stopping in Brussels.
But why I am really writing about Flanders? Just released on Netflix, a few days ago, is a new series set in Flanders. It is called Hotel Beau Séjour. The quick summary is this:
After finding her own bloody corpse in a hotel bath, Kato slowly realizes that she’s dead – yet a handful of people can still see and hear her.
Or said in a different way:
Caught in an afterlife limbo, Kato investigates her own mysterious death, and unravels a web of secrets in her seemingly tranquil village.
Okay, I’ve reviewed a number of Nordic noirs, and British mysteries, and series about French detectives – but I think this is the just the second series from Belgium that I’ve reviewed. The first was La Treve aka The Break reviewed here.
It is a bit strange, but not off-putting to have a new and an unusual perspective; that being the perspective of the victim. She’s a bit of a ghost in the literal sense of the word, but for those that can see her, it is as if she’s returned from a journey.
While we don’t see the cinematic enactment of the physical murder, we do get to watch the young victim called Kato, and played marvelously by Lynn van Royen, standing in the medical examiners lab and watching her own autopsy.
Or silently watching as witnesses and or suspects are interviewed.
Like The Break, this is set in a small town in Flanders – Dilsen. In fact, there is an actual Hotel Beau Sejour in town
What we also find out that this is a town of secrets – some just below the surface, others that are deep enough to not be revealed or become obvious until we are further into this 10 part drama.
There’s broken families galore, Suspicious deaths that we are told about that happened long before Kato’s demise.
Of course there’s some sex, a bit of motocross racing, some drug dealing, marital infidelities, psychiatrists, a couple of female homicide detectives who are sent down to Dilsen to work the case.
That’s Dora Plettinckx (with the long hair) played by Mieke De Groote, Marion Schneider (played by Katrin Lohmann) with the short hair. They are reasonably effective, professional, and serve as an uptick from the dour local cop…Alexander Vinken
who is played by Johan van Assche. As I said he’s the local cop and investigator = and he’s also a suspect.
In fact, there are a whole raft of suspects – from Jef, the local hermit/nut job, to motocrosser Charlie who is Vinken’s son, and Kato’s father Luc, a headmaster at a school and an alcoholic, to an elderly drug dealer. What’s more there are more victims than just Kato.
And therein lies the appeal of the series. It does move slowly, and one would not be wrong to say too slowly at times. We watch as Kato goes from family to friends (it seems 5 people can actually see her and hear her – but only five) to discuss her own case. And we watch as Schneider and Plettinckx do their thing, which also seems slow to their boss who is constantly concerned about the cost of express DNA analysis, or other forensic matters.
The area itself is flat and more of farm country than anything else. The directors have done some nice crane work in their transitional shot as we might follow a car, or a motorbike, somewhere. And there’s also a few excellent cliff-hangers within.
The entire cast was new to me, which I think adds a great deal to the development of the story. Since I knew none of the actors, I wasn’t making projections about who might do what. The wealth of this story is in the actors as I wouldn’t say the script is all that great. Though I didn’t figure out the mystery, but I certainly did enjoy the performances.
This series began airing on Netflix on March 16th, and I will recommend it. But keep in mind, while this is part-who-done-it, and part police procedural – it is also a family drama which does manage to effectively get its hooks into you.