“Watch Jan Decleir’s performance. He never goes for the easy effect, never pushes too hard, is a rock-solid occupant of his character. Everything he has to say is embodied, not expressed. Talks are underway for a Hollywood remake. […] But this performance will not be easily equaled. Gene Hackman, maybe. Morgan Freeman. Robert Mitchum, if he were alive. Decleir is the real thing.” These are the words of renowned American film critic Roger Ebert in his film review of “De Zaak Alzheimer” (2003, a.k.a. “Memory of a Killer”) in September 2005.
In just a few sentences, he sums up the essence of Jan Decleir. After all, the 73-year-old Belgian-born actor has been one of the most legendary performers on stage, television, and the screen in the Low Countries and far beyond. Ever since his film debut as Dutch actress Willeke van Ammelrooy’s co-star in “Mira” (1971), directed by Oscar-winner Fons Rademakers, he has dominated and captured his audience time and time again flawlessly and stylishly.
Among his many screen credits, his films include “Karakter” (1987, a.k.a. “Character”) and “Antonia” (1995, a.k.a. “Antonia’s Line”). These two highly successful Dutch features both won Academy Awards as Best Foreign Language Films. After he was committed to do a Shakespeare play, he had no choice but to turn down job offers from filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick (“Eyes Wide Shut”), or the role of the villain in James Bond’s “The World Is Not Enough” (both 1999). The role went to Robert Carlyle.
Consequently, the 2019 Ostend Film Festival decided to bestow him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Director Stijn Coninx, with whom Decleir made the Academy Award-nominated “Daens” (1992) and “Niet Schieten” (2018), expressed his admiration in a heartwarming speech on the Ostend Walk of Fame when the actor was about to reveal his own star.
All this attention feels a little bit strange to Mr. Decleir. Photographs, TV interviews, selfies, autographs… it’s not really his cup of tea. He’s at his best and all the more at ease when he can create and develop a character, and focus on an interpretation all on his own. The event, which took place on September 8 at the Ostend Walk of Fame, was followed by the award ceremony at the Ostend Kinepolis theater when actress Lynn Van Royen, this year’s Festival Master of Ceremonies, presented the Life Achievement Award to Mr. Decleir. No doubt an unforgettable moment for all guests—many of them Flemish actors and actresses—but also for Mr. Decleir; he’s a man of few words, and it was probably a moment to cherish.