Monday, May 9, 2011

Terug naar Oosterdonk (1997)

Terug naar Oosterdonk ("Back to Oosterdonk") is a Flemish mini-series in six parts directed by Frank Van Passel and written by Guido Van Meir. It is set mostly in Oosterdonk, a fictional Flemish village that is levelled to the ground by the Belgian government during the late 1950s.

The series begins with the funeral of Brecht Bosmans' father. Brecht, a successful television presenter, finds himself face to face with old friends and neighbours for the first time in many years. As they reminisce on a now distant past, new details rise to the surface concerning the mysterious events which took place in the final days of Oosterdonk.

Most of the series takes place in the mid-to-late 1950s. Oosterdonk is a peaceful village in the polder north of Antwerp. Everything changes when the government begins to realize its plan for expanding the port of Antwerp. Oosterdonk lies in the way of this "progress", and so all the inhabitants are forced to sell their houses and let the bulldozers move in.


As Oosterdonk draws its final gasping breaths of life, the young Brecht struggles to find his place in the world. He has three very different role models. His father is a simple, hard-working, responsible man, while Brecht's schoolmaster is an eccentric amateur photographer with a deep knowledge of local history. Last, but not least, there is Pietje de Leugenaar, the even more eccentric recluse who has settled down as a sheep herder after many years of travelling around the world.

Schoolmaster Moens, played to perfection by Peter van den Eede.

Pietje de Leugenaar,
played by Dirk Roofthooft.
Pietje de Leugenaar ("Pietje the Liar") is by far the most famous character in the series. Guido Van Meir invented him in 1975 during his tenure as a writer for HUMO magazine. Dirk Roofthooft, who plays him in the series, portrays him with equal parts wisdom, violent passion and uncompromising madness. (Picture Gandalf as played by Johnny Depp.) Pietje speaks a muddle of different dialects that makes him almost impossible to understand, and the TV network were forced to subtitle his lines after receiving complaints from viewers who couldn't understand what he was saying.

Pietje has spent much time living with the indigenous peoples of Canada, and has adopted many of their beliefs and practices. His religion is the earth, more specifically the polder in which Oosterdonk lies. He takes it upon himself to pass some of his wisdom on to Brecht and Brecht's friend Walter. One of the most memorable scenes from the series is Pietje and the two boys beating the "heart of the tortoise", a magic drum which causes the polder to rumble like a great beast.

Pietje's fanatic devotion to the land and his home town leads him into violent conflict with Custers, the engineer who oversees the destruction of the village. This provides much of the suspense throughout the series.

The destruction of Oosterdonk is based on true events. The port of Antwerp is one of the very largest in Europe, thanks in part to a great expansion of the harbour in the postwar years. Several villages were reduced to rubble to make room for the expansion. Oosterdonk was named after two of these villages, Oosterweel and Wilmarsdonk.

Church tower in Oorderen, a village that was destroyed
in 1965 during the expansion of the port of Antwerp.

A string of unforgettable characters makes Terug naar Oosterdonk one of the best Flemish TV series of all time. At the time of writing there is no DVD with English subtitles available, so you better start learning Dutch.


  1. This is great.

    I'm amazed and pleased that you could like this. It's so Flemish.

    In the same time it's a universal emotion when things of the past are disappearing forever.


  2. I think the fact that it's Flemish is what makes it great! Only here will you find a series that dares to show characters that are so immensely peculiar, so wonderfully natural. You will never see anything like this in the mainstream coming out of Hollywood and the places that aspire to be like it. "Terug naar Oosterdonk" occupies an important, independent place in the mosaic of series in my memory.

  3. As my dad says: beautiful.

    I agree, despite being out of mainstream, it's one of the best Flemish tv-series ever made.

    Well done <3

  4. Thank you! You know how much it means <3