With 500,000 admissions already posted and the Christmas holidays still to come, Erik Van Looy's Loft is the runaway local hit of the autumn in Belgium. Four weeks after its release on October 22, it had not only outperformed Quantum Of Solace and left Mamma Mia! The Movie gasping in its wake - it had entered the top-10 of all-time Flemish box-office hits.
Non-Flemish audiences are unlikely to have heard of Loft. However, in Flanders, writer-director Van Looy is a celebrity: a film-maker who combines his directorial career with a second life as a game-show host on Belgian television. His previous feature, The Alzheimer Case (aka The Memory Of A Killer), was also a big local hit, and saw the remake rights optioned by Universal.
Produced by Hilde De Laere for Woestijnvis, and supported by the Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF), Loft is sold internationally by The Works International, while its Benelux distributor is Antwerp Independent Films.
So why do the Flemings so love Loft' A spokesperson for Independent Films, the distributor which released the movie on 40 prints in 32 theatres, sounds a little nonplussed. 'That's a pretty broad release for a Flemish movie.'
Reviews were strong, and Independent advertised on TV and radio. Audiences were drawn by a young cast including many of the up-and-coming actors in Flanders, by Van Looy's popularity and by that of the screenwriter Bart De Pauw, also well-known locally. Loft follows a group of young married male friends who secretly hire an apartment where they can take back their mistresses without their wives finding out. Their scheme comes unstuck when a dead body turns up in the apartment. Nobody knows who is responsible. Van Looy characterises it as 'The Usual Suspects meets The Apartment'.
Success breeds success. The more admissions Loft racks up, the more the local press writes about the film, basking in its reflected glory. Independent reports that it is approached continually by journalists for updates about the box-office figures. This, in turn, has whetted the curiosity of other cinema-goers. As yet, Loft has not reached the 750,000 admissions posted by The Alzheimer Case but it is a title Independent believes has legs.
'We're reaching a very broad audience, from seven to 77,' says the Independent spokesperson. 'It has attracted people who haven't been to the movies in ages or just go once or twice a year.' As of mid-November, the film was holding on to its screens.
So will Loft travel' This, it seems, is a tricky question. The Independent spokesperson admits he is not even sure of how well the film has been received by Belgium's French-speaking community. Despite the festival success of recent Flemish movies such as Ben X and Moscow, Belgium (both of which found UK distributors and sold widely elsewhere), Flemish fare struggles perennially to reach an international audience.
However, Van Looy, who recently signed an exclusive deal with Woestijnvis for future projects in Benelux, is known to have attracted the interest of Hollywood. Even if Loft remains a largely local phenomenon, it has helped raise its director's profile yet further while giving Flemish cinema in general a much-needed boost.