Dir-scr Gust Van den Berghe. Belgium. 2010. 74mins


Gust Van den Berghe’s beautifully shot black-and-white re-imaging of the story of the baby Jesus and the three wise men - itself based on Felix Timmerman’s work - is an engaging oddity, though one bound for a future on the festival circuit rather than at a cinema near you.

The story’s theatrical origins are clear to see in this modest-length tale, and while the underlying story is undoubtedly well known, the film is given a certain intriguing poignancy by the casting consisting mainly of mentally handicapped performers.

The Flemish backdrop balances modern-day bars, plumbing and music with a feel of a medieval rustic past in terms of the rural buildings and landscape. The film showed in Directors’ Fortnight.

The three wise men of this version - played enthusiastically by screen newcomers Paul Mertens, Jelle Palmaerts and Peter Janssens - meet in a bar for a little good-natured drinking before heading off into the snowy woods.

They eventually come across a mother and her baby, and dubbing themselves the Three Wise Men, decide to make offerings of crumpled cigarettes and opt to give away their modest gains in tribute to the arrival of the miraculous child.

The film is developed from debut writer-director Gust Van den Berge’s graduation film, and while elegantly staged and full of striking black-and-white compositions, it does have that underlying sense of an ambitious student project. Certainly there is a good deal of skill and ambition on show, but its target is certainly not a general filmgoing audience.

Midway through the threesome find themselves in a bar where we are treated to a striking - and brief - scene of a musical performance from a transvestite singer shot in lustrous colour, but before you know it the wise men are back in black-and-white, It is a striking and memorable moment, but one which again feels contrived and affected rather then integral to the modest storyline.

The performances by the Down’s syndrome cast are all sound and appropriate to the story, though even at a mere 74 minutes this slight and self-consciously arty affair stretches the attention.

Van den Berge has claimed he intends to feature the film as part of a triptych that are united in an umbrella theme of ‘humanity’, but look out for them at an art space rather than a cinema.

Production company-international sales: Minds Meet, +32 47646 00 15
Producer: Tomas Leyers
Cinematography: Hans Bruch Jr
Editor: David Verdurme
Website: www.littlebabyjesus.eu
Main cast: Jelle Palmaerts, Peter Janssens, Paul Mertens