De laatste nacht van de nachtman

Place Anneessens
15.17.18/05 > 22:00
16/05 > 22:00 & 00:00
Duration : +/-60’
Fr & Nl > Subtitles : Fr & Nl

It has been five years in the making, five years of listening, stories and workshops in one of the most cosmopolitan parts of Brussels - place Anneessens, a stone's throw from the Gare du Midi - and carries the generic title Le retour des hirondelles, with human beings seen to be like these migratory birds.

For Els Dietvorst, everyone there is seeking to take flight. A team is formed with the Beursschouwburg as partner. Each phase - almost a year long - concludes with a public showing with the protagonists, the square's residents and passers-by. De laatste nacht van de nachtman is a film about an evening of lip-synching that took place in October 2002. Els captures the ephemeral theatre in the people taking part, their excitement at being someone else. Here in the open air, in the square, their metamorphoses take place before us on screen...


Els Dietvorst


Els Dietvorst & Caroline Donnely


Els Dietvorst & Orla Barry


Rachid Ajerrar, Yassin Bakdah, Calogero Genova, Reda Chebchoubi, Marine Chotteau, Ismaïl Dahabi, Miguel Devaux, David Godon, Bahman Homa, Kito Isimba, Marie-Louise Jacobs, Sarah Lefevre, Guilliane Mansard, Vincent Mercenier, Michel Puissant, Lara Aniela Radzki, Sylvie Van Molle, Flora Zoda, Kokou Zokli.


Bindu Stuyck & Liesbet Vaes


Hervé Brindel


vzw CinematiQ (CineMobiel)


Firefly vzw (Bruxelles/Brussel)


Beursschouwburg (Bruxelles/Brussel), CC Strombeek, Ministerie van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap, Vlaamse Gemeenschapscommissie, SIF, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts


Beursschouwburg, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

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The context: Le retour des hirondelles

In January 1999 Els Dietvorst began a multimedia project, Le retour des hirondelles [The Return of the Swallows], in a district in south Brussels – Anneessens – just a stone’s throw from the Gare du Midi. This part of the city has never really managed to escape its rather precarious position since the 1920s. What was important for Els was to find the most appropriate and most organic form in which to communicate with this environment. “We set out to look for a new artistic form, a new language so that as many residents as possible could participate in the project by every possible means”. We analysed what was said, experimenting with words, images and sound, and tried to bring out what escaped people’s consciousness: the inexpressible, the invisible.

Le retour des hirondelles is also an intense project about individuals, an investment in the humanity of each person and the meaning his or her culture brings: “The involvement of and collaboration with the participant are based on a mutual exchange at community level. Trust is essential if this to happen.

Now Le retour des hirondelles, which began in 1999, is in its last phase: a “real” film is being made with 23 amateur actors. “We deliberately chose to work in three phases over a five year period to avoid being tied to pure documentary and to give the project the time to blossom and develop at its own pace.

The thinking behind each of the different phases:

Phase 1 (October 1999)

Brussels is shaped like a heart – Dream by Rimbaud.

Phase 1 enabled us to carry out an in-depth study of the area which gave us a documentary image of the district and its residents: five short video loops, mini concerts and an exhibition. From the outset we picked Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) and his work for inspiration: the poet spent one of the most passionate periods of his life in this part of Brussels.

Phase 2 (December 2001)

WATER! WATER! WATER! The crusade for water.

For Phase 2 we used artistic forms “without there being any concern about entering an unknown world”. In other words we worked with forms chosen by the protagonists themselves and with which they are familiar. On 16 December 2001, during a “complete tableau” in the “Metro” room underneath the district itself, we showed the fruits of our year-long labour: 3 short films, two video loops, a magazine (Magazine 2) and our “jukebox stories”.

Phase 3/1 (2002)

Après le déluge/After the flood/Na de zondvloed

Everybody has the right to another life.

Phase 3 took place over three years, bringing together elements from the first and second phases into a scenario, script and full-length film.

With this Brussels district and the actors we went through the film-making process: undertaking preparations in the first year, developing the screenplay and characters in the second year and making the film during the third year.

Phase 3/2

The last night of the nightman/Parade sauvage.

There was break during the second year and it occurred on 31 October 2002 for Halloween and the “night of miming”. The actors became a double character, already working on some scenes to be tested in front of a “live” audience.

Our setting this time was the BSBbis and it comprised people miming in the background, with the audience as extras and the actors as protagonists.


Everyone thought I was mad: a night, a whole night! Even the actors were thinking twice about it.

Was it really what I wanted? But when everyone understood I was serious, we all mounted the scaffold together en masse!

We were well trained and well prepared. We were confident, had the nerve for it and a goal: to make it to the early hours, get the scenes in the can and have fun in the process. Each year of work on Hirondelles ended with a “cinematic work”. An entire year is laid out and tested before a “live” audience that can also join in. These complete experiences (“complete tableaux”) are one of the project’s assets. With the actors, a set and a film crew we moved into a zone of transition between reality and fiction, between dream and action. Anyone who spent sufficient time there found it to be an intoxicating, disturbing and amazing experience.

To begin with the idea was all about the district and the actors. Then miming became an obvious option. Almost everyone, young and old, wants to become somebody else. Out of the small number of people in our team we already had five Britney Spears and two Dalidas. It became clear that a night of mime where anyone can join in and a large audience was the thing to do. We had advertised this event by every means possible, putting particular pressure on all the organisations in the district. More than thirty people were attracted to the project. Miming was open to anyone who wanted to get on stage. Everyone wants to become somebody else, transform themselves. Some wanted to be a star for a night, others wanted to shine for an act. And lots wanted to appear in a film. They changed in the artists’ dressing room and we asked them what their motivations were. The audience was there when the meeting took place and joined in as extras, as spectators. They were fascinated, lost and moved by it.

Then the “night of mime” became our screenplay for the “real” film de laatste nacht [The Last Night], a night when all the characters start meeting each other. The five scenes and two monologues prepared during the summer were acted out in public that night.

Take Victor and Camel. They met after a car accident and from that moment on became inseparable. Victor, the yuppie who had everything, has to face up to an identity crisis. The ultra-laid back Camel tries to convince him of the joys life can offer. They had been going round Brussels for a couple of days and had come across the “night of mime” while looking for a bit of company. As for Sarah and Justine, they turn the evening into a night of work, thinking there are too many men out there with no money. And then there is “the man of the night”, the night owl. He comes out of his apartment. It’s been a long time since he’s met a human being. He meets Guiliane who predicts his future…

“How were we able to film these scenes (silently) with a “live” audience whose size we couldn’t anticipate and a stage full of people miming?” It was a risk. The two presenters, Olivier and Vincent, were our masters of ceremony, announcing the mimes and also requesting silence while each scene was being acted out. They managed it with flying colours. At 9pm we opened the doors to let the night come in: Red Bull and coke. What followed has been captured in history.


The film is a three-dimensional tableau containing scenes performed by actors, the mimes that took place and the audience serving as both extras and spectators. The actors/swallows play a double role: they are their own character in the “real” film and then each do a mime.

The Last Night of the Nightman is a performance of this “wild parade”, a night when beauty and kitsch come together, reality and fiction intersect and dreams become art.

Phase 3/3

Karaoke/De Woestijn. Fin

The “real” film (Karaoke) was shot in 2003. We left Rimbaud when he fled to Africa, at the very moment he gave it all up to make a life for himself somewhere else.

Flight and marginality have become two major themes of the film. The screenplay is a work-in-progress, rehearsals are always underway. The Anneessens district has become the set, the residents are the extras and the actors are the protagonists.

Every day of filming is a party!

Première: December 2003.

Final Phase

After five years the time has come for reflection and a look at what has been achieved. The process and results are discussed and put down in a publication. This final magazine also incorporates the four earlier ones. Reels of film that haven’t been used are sorted and recompiled. We are working on a last “tableau vivant” with the actors and in this final phase we are hoping to travel so that the project can be shared outside the district as well. Inshallah!

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