Daens: aka “Priest Daens” (1992)

This Academy Award-nominated Belgian drama follows a late 19th-century priest’s courageous battle to end the exploitation of child workers in Aalst, Belgium.

Genre – Drama

Director(s) – Stijn Coninx

Blue Rider’s Role – U.S. sales representatives

Distributor(s) – Universal Pictures Benelux (Netherlands DVD)

Release Date – 1992

Synopsis – In the 1890s, Father Adolf Daens went to Aalst, Flanders, a textile town where child labor was rife, pay and working conditions were horrible, the poor had no vote and the Catholic church backed the middle class in oppressing workers. He wrote a few columns for the Catholic paper, and soon workers were listening, and the powerful were in an uproar. Daens was expelled from the Catholic Party, so he started the Christian Democrats and was elected to Parliament. After Rome disciplined him, Father Daens had to choose between remaining a priest or remaining a champion of workers.

In subplots, a courageous young woman fells in love with a socialist and survives a shop foreman’s rape, children die and prelates play billiards.

Awards for Daens:
In 1993, Daens was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. It won four Belgian Joseph Plateau Awards: Best Belgian Film, Best Belgian Director (Stijn Coninx), Best Belgian Actress (Antje de Boeck) and Best Belgian Actor (Jan Decleir). Decleir was nominated Best Actor at the European Film Awards and won Best Actor at the Shanghai International Film Festival. Coninx won a directing award at the Venice Film Festival.

Critics’ Kudos:
Pedro Sena, Rec. Arts Movie Reviews: “A very powerful film that does not let up.”

Channel 4 (U.K.)film review: “Coninx’s portrait of Father Adolf Daens and his actions, which started with a few simple columns for the local Catholic newspaper and culminated in the founding of the Christian Democrat Party, after Daens had been expelled from the church, is a powerful exploration of how one man can make a difference to society. Fascinating.”

Viewers’ Ratings:
As of March 9, 2007, more than 95.3% of the 1,065 people who evaluated Daens at the Internet Movie Database gave it positive ratings, with 29.3% rating it 8 out of 10, another 25.5% giving it a 9 and an additional 23% rating it a perfect 10. The average voter gave it a very high rating (7.9 out of 10) and all demographic groups did so too, with the most enthusiastic being females 17 and younger (9.2 out of 10), females 18-29 (8.1), males 45 and older (8), males 17 and younger (8) and males 18-29 (8).

Through March 2007, Daens got the highest viewer ratings of all the 105 films Blue Rider has produced, financed and/or distributed.

Major Cast and Crew Credits and Awards:
Directed by Stijn Coninx (Visions of Europe, Het Peulengaleis, De Kavijaks; won seven major awards and two nominations in five countries for Daens, When the Light Comes and Verder Dan De Maan).

Written by Francois Chevallier (L’empreinte des géants, Contrainte par Corps) and Stijn Coninx (Koko Flanel, Visions of Europe, Hector). Based on the novel by Louis Paul Boon (De Witte).

Stars Jan Decleir (Antonia, Rosenstrasse; won 10 awards and four nominations for works including Daens, Character and Off-Screen; 34 other films and TV projects) and Gerard Desarthe (Uranus, Eine Liebe in Deutschland).

Cast includes Antje de Boeck (Stille Waters, Camping Cosmos; five awards and three nominations for works including Daens, Manneken Pis, Hop and A Dog of Flanders); Johan Leysen (Brotherhood of the Wolf, Queen Margot; major Dutch and Canadian awards for Tralievader, Trahir and Felice Felice) and Michael Pas (Antonia, Left Luggage, Crazy Love; won 1989 Best Belgian Actor Award for Blueberry Hill and another Best Belgian Actor nom for Anchoress).

Producers: Dirk Impens (Brylcream Boulevard, Left Luggage); Jean-Luc Ormières (Eden, A Couch in New York); Maria Peters (Left Luggage, Baby Blue; five awards and four other nominations from five countries for works including Kruimeltje and Pietje Bell); Hans Pos (Left Luggage, Pietje Bell; nominated for a Dutch award for Kruimeltje) and Dave Schram (Pietje Bell, Left Luggage; nominated for Netherlands Film Festival’s Golden Calf Award for Kruimeltje).

Original Music by Dirk Bross (Romance, Marie Koko Flanel).

Cinematography by Walther van den Ende (Joyeux Noel, Farinelli, A Dog of Flanders; five awards and two other nominations for works including No Man’s Land, Toto le Heros, Dust, Sailors Don’t Cry and Taxandria).

Film Editing by Ludo Troch (Wait Until Spring Bandini, Rosie; won France’s Best Editing Cesar Award for An Amazing Couple; 29 other films and TV projects).

Production Design by Allan Starski (Washington Square, Euro Trip, Hanibal Rising, Oliver Twist, Europa Europa; won Oscar for Schindler’s List; won Cesar for The Pianist; won four other awards and two other noms for works including Escape from Sobibor and Pan Tadeusz) and Hubert Pouille (The Eighth Day, The Passion of Darkly Noon, Toto le heros, Crazy Love).

Art Direction by Ewa Skoczkowska (Proof of Life, Hiroshima; nominated for Polish Film Best Production Design Award for for Pregi).

Costume Design by Yan Tax (Spetters, Amsterdamned; nominated for a Tony Award for Best Costume Designer on Cyrano: The Musical).

Special Effects by Miroslaw Marchwinski (Listopad; nominated for 1994 Spanish Goya Award for Best Special Effects for El Detective y la Muerte).

Festival Screenings and Release Data:
Daens screened at the 1993 Toronto Film Festival and at the 2000 Febio Film Festival in the Czech Republic. It played in The Netherlands in 1993, France in 1994 and Denmark in 1995.

Internet Movie Database entry for Daens