De smaak van De Keyser (TV Series 2008–2009) Poster


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How past & present interact
Ray Massart30 January 2009
This 10-part series ("The Taste of De Keyser") tells the story of three generations of the "jenever" distillers De Keyser ("jenever" is a typical Flemish & Dutch alcoholic beverage which can be compared to Gin) that starts in 1939 and ends in 1970. The plot evolves mainly around the mother figure Helena, her daughter Martine and her grandchild Alessandra. Helena who is madly in love with Alfred sees her dreamlike world abruptly come to an end at the outbreak of the war. Alfred and his best friend George who is also in love with Helena and extremely jealous of their relationship, are called up to join the army and sent off to defend their country against the Germans. They are captured and sent to a prisoners of war camp where Alfred is killed. Years later, the old and dying Helena who has never had a satisfying answer to the question of what really happened to Alfred and how he died, instructs her granddaughter Helena to dig into the past and find out the truth. The action often goes back and forth between the past and the present and astonishingly enough the many flashbacks are never annoying as is so often the case in current features. We see how the war transforms the frivolous young Helena into an increasingly embittered older woman, how she eventually marries George in a desperate attempt to cling to her memories of Alfred, how the past always creeps back on us and determines the present and above all how the quest for perfection which has always been Helena's ultimate aim by discovering "the perfect taste" in the distillation process, lives on in her grandchild ( hence the title) There are many sub-plots to this story which all come together in the end and therefore form a remarkable entity but are better not revealed at present so as not to spoil the experience of the viewer. Frank Van Passel and Jan Matthys have succeeded in making an intriguing and entertaining visual document based on a convincing story. Excellent camera-work , often slow-paced but never boring and not in the least, a beautiful music score ( Wim De Wilde) Superb acting on the part of the whole male and female cast with a special mention for Marieke Dillens, Katelijne Damen and Laura Verlinden.
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outstanding family saga with aching secrets, loyalties and betrayals
Myriam Nys8 April 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Belgium, 1939. Beautiful Helena De Keyser, descendant from a long line of jenever brewers, wanders through meadows and fields, looking for the aromatic herbs that will turn her recipes into works of art. She dreams of creating the perfect jenever with a taste so rich, so delicate, that it will crown all her dynasty's achievements. On one of these outings she meets with two young men, childhood friends who have grown up to become small-time illegal brewers. As many other men before them, both George and Alfred fall under Helena's spell. With mobilisation for Word War II approaching, all elements are present for a dark story of friendship, love and treachery. The mystery at the heart of this tragedy will plague the De Keyser family for generations to come, well into the present time...

Part family saga, part mystery, "De smaak van De Keyser" is an excellent series with a remarkably intelligent screenplay. Each episode carefully adds threads to a tapestry ; it is only in the last episode that the pattern as a whole can be discovered in all its complexity and artistry. The acting is good and the evocation of the ebb and flow of Belgian history is both realistic and moving.

The series also works as an introduction to the beautiful city of Hasselt and to the world of jenever making ; both aspects are closely related, since this city is pretty much the jenever capital of Belgium. In lesser hands, such a background could have devolved in a cheap ad campaign for the touristic charms of Hasselt, but happily this is not the case. As in a good jenever, all ingredients maintain a proper balance.

However, it needs to be noted that this is not a series for children. The series does not shy away from showing the horrors of World War II : its depiction of the capture of the Eben-Emael fortress contains some of the most gruesomely realistic scenes I have ever seen in a Belgian series or movie. (For those readers who are not familiar with Belgium : "Eben-Emael" was a giant fortress complex of great tactic and strategic importance. Most experts thought it was invincible. In 1940 German invaders succeeded in conquering it, by using enormously innovative and daring methods.)

To end on a fun note : there is an episode, set in the present time, where a naughty young couple sneaks into the Army archive in order to look at old records. This is an exercise in stupidity : simply write to authorities and a team of historians and librarians will be happy to help you out...
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