Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

Wonder Woman in Belgium

I went to see Wonder Woman last weekend in my local cinema. I haven't been following the DC movies recently — the last I saw was The Dark Knight Rises five years ago — and went into it pretty unspoiled with no expectations. I really enjoyed it, and heartily recommend it to everyone.

Spoiler alert!

I had no idea that the film is largely set during the closing weeks of the first world war, in November 1918, with almost all of the second half set in a fictionalised Belgium. Although we Belgians have contributed greatly to the comics tradition, we're not used to seeing our country in superhero movies.

The fictional Belgian village of Veld, typically for Flanders of the time, has shop signs in French but the villagers mainly speak Flemish to each other — and a frisson went around the movie hall as Wonder Woman spoke to them in their own language. Later in the film, the audience went very quiet at one point.

The resonances were pretty strong. The cinema I was sitting in (which committed a major faux pas on the film's opening night) was built on the site of buildings destroyed during the invasion of August 1914, close to the monument to the 272 civilians in our town killed during that terrible month. The movie's interrogation of the rationale for war hit very close to home.

And although it is (rightly) being noted that the portrayal of chemical weapons in Wonder Woman has an eerie similarity to what is happening in Syria right now, it remains the case that the Belgian military Service for the Removal and Destruction of Explosive material — which is based in the woods in our home village — is still finding 150-200 tons of first world war munitions every year, 5-10% of which is toxic, with no sign of that abating.

I'm glad to say that the century-old chemical weapons don't come near our local headquarters, but are kept in Poelkapelle, 150 km west of here. They are currently working through a significant backlog with their new disposal chamber, which started working only last April after the previous one got blown up in 2012.

Coming from where I do, I'm used to writers taking my own cultural heritage and mangling it horribly. I think Wonder Woman very successfully avoided this trap as far as Belgium goes (though the castle where the military gala ball takes place appears to be in a very un-Belgian landscape). (And I did wonder about Themiscyra apparently being within a day or so of both Turkey and London.)

It's fundamentally a funny, witty action film with a light approach to actual history; but it does the serious bits very well. As I said, strongly recommended.
Tags: films, history: wwi, world: belgium

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