This film is the unofficial sequel to the record-breaking French comedy, Bienvenue chez les chi’tis (2008). An analysis of the previous film is also included on this blog. Nothing to Declare (2010) remains in the same geographical region as the previous film; the unadorned French North.
Nothing to Declare (2010) centres upon the opening of the European borders in 1993, and in particular the erosion of the frontier between France and Belgium. The year 1993 marks the beginnings of the EU Schengen zone, which is a passport-free area with little governmental management and control. As the title suggests, the border is central to the film’s narrative and themes; it is fundamental to the delineation of a national identity, which is at the crux of the Belgian ‘nationalist’ and Francophobe character of Ruben (Benoit Poelvoorde). Ruben embodies an exaggerated ultra-nationalism, which is not witnessed in relation to the ‘Belgian’ identity that he advertises. Since 1995, Belgium has been a federal entity, constructed by three linguistic regions: the Francophone regions of Brussels (90% French-speaking) and Wallonia, the Flemish-speaking Flanders, and the minority German regions. It is a sovereign state with competing identities predicated upon linguistic allegiance, which remains to this day.
The discussion of this Belgian identity takes places between Ruben and his son, as they move the borderlines that define the nation. Ruben is clandestinely enlarging the nation-state of Belgium to coincide with the pre-history of Belgica. The Ruben and his brainwashed son Leopold (after the second king of the nation-state of Belgium) discuss the ancient history of the Belgian tribes: a history that occurred before the paroxysm of nation-state creation. They retreat into the ancient past for national coherence. This sequence highlights the artificial nature of the nation, and displays how the borders are fluid and change over time. It is a nationalist conception of the nation, drawing upon the pre-history of Belgium.
The ‘impossible unity’ of the French and Belgian characters, in particular Louise and Mathias, and the exaggerated tensions between said nationalities highlight the climate of fear of French imperialism and of a French apparition lurking over the Belgian territory. Ruben wishes for Belgium to remain a Unitarian sovereign state, and does not desire the open border policies of the EU. It is perceived as a loss of national sovereignty.
A sequence set in the Belgian heartland, in the nationalist or even Francophobe domicile of Ruben’s father, ridicules the existence of a Belgian inferiority complex and culture of self-doubt, which is deeply entrenched in the Belgian psyche. The sequence instead places the percolation of French products into the Belgian market in the context of a more globalized sphere. The flows of French products (in this case the water) are no different to the flows of products from other nation-states across the globe. It is a contemporary reality that the world is becoming increasingly ‘connected’ and inter-related: we drink Italian coffee with a Thai percolator.
To conclude with a quotation from the filmmaker Dany Boon: ‘French and Belgians are basically the same – the same language, the same skin, the same religion – so the racism is utterly ridiculous’. The Francophone Belgians converse in French and use the Belgian franc (prior to the Euro), so is it more appropriate to postulate the existence of an inferiority complex between the Belgians and the French, due to the ‘soft power’ French approach to the Walloon region across the border.