Miraculous Realism

The French-Walloon Cinéma du Nord

By Niels Niessen

Subjects: Film Studies, Cultural Studies, French Studies, European Studies
Series: SUNY series, Horizons of Cinema
Paperback : 9781438477343, 338 pages, January 2021
Hardcover : 9781438477336, 338 pages, March 2020

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

A North Wind, or The Miracle of Cannes 1999

Introduction: A Critical Fairy Tale

1 Hunting for Easter Eggs in Rosetta and L'humanité
A Normal Life | humanity with a small h | The Acting/
Acted Body | Of Little Flies and Burned-Out Priests |
a north wind | Game Over, or The Moral of the Story

2 Coal-Fired Dreams, the Cinéma du Nord
The Nord | From Pays Noir to Euroregion | Between
Utopia and Dystopia: Wallonia in the Cinema | Not Paris:
Nord-Pas-de-Calais in the Cinema | Conclusion | Of
Giants, Angels, and Humans

3 Cinéma du Nord, a Euregional Cinema
Transnational Coproduction | Argument | Terre d'Images:
Northern French Cinema within French National Cinema |
Yes We Cannes: Francophone-Belgian Cinema in Its Walloon
Manifestation | At the Crossroads of Europe | Google,
Van Gogh, the Louvre-Lens, and a Terril of Coats
Excursion: From the Nord, with Love

4 New Realism after the Modern Cinema
What Is Realism? | Neorealism | From Neo to New:
Miraculous Realism | The Modern Cinema | The Acting/
Acted Image| The Question of Grace in Francophone
European Film Philosophy

Epilogue: Posthumanism



Films Referenced



An authoritative study of this postsecular film movement from the French-Belgian border region that rose to prominence at the turn of the twenty-first century.


At the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, two movies from northern-Francophone Europe swept almost all the main awards. Rosetta by the Walloon directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne won the Golden Palm, and L'humanité by the French director Bruno Dumont won the Grand Prize; both won acting awards as well. Taking this "miracle" of Cannes as the point of departure, Niels Niessen identifies a transregional film movement in the French-Belgian border region—the Cinéma du Nord or "cinema of the North. " He examines this movement within the contexts of French and Belgian national cinemas from the silent era to the digital age, as well as that of the new realist tendency in world cinema of the last three decades. In addition, he traces, from a northern perspective, a secular-religious tradition in Francophone-European film and philosophy from Bresson and Pialat, via Bazin, Deleuze, and Godard, to the Dardennes and Dumont, while critiquing this tradition for its frequent use of a humanist vocabulary of grace for a secular world. Once a cradle of the Industrial Revolution, the Franco-Belgian Nord faced economic crisis for most of the twentieth century. Miraculous Realism demonstrates that the Cinéma du Nord's rise to prominence resulted from the region's endeavor to reinvent itself economically and culturally at the crossroads of Europe after decades of recession.

Niels Niessen is a Researcher in Arts and Culture at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands.


"…the broad approach of Miraculous Realism signals Niessen's laudable, and largely successful effort to examine this titular phenomenon at the broadest level; while the Cinéma du Nord may in itself be a very well-delineated particular phenomenon, it can of course not be considered outside of these broader, decades-long discussions about cinema and realism, which as Niessen convincingly shows, often collapse into a kind of nostalgia for Christian immanence and redemption." — Studies in European Cinema

"This book not only makes a major contribution to the field but also creates a new area in this field: the opening up of discussion of the Cinéma du Nord in geopolitical, historical, and theoretical terms, through a blend of fine close reading and broader commentary." — Sarah Cooper, author of The Soul of Film Theory