You can find the village of Moresnet where the borders of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands meet. For director Frank Van Passel, this is fertile ground for a mystery thriller series that tells shared stories about the past, present and future of Europe.

In Flanders we live close to Germany, France and the Netherlands, so we have the opportunity to access a huge market with a shared history, attracted to the same kind of stories.

Director Frank van Passel

The first season of Moresnet, which premieres in the official competition at Canneséries, centres on Ben, a man with a troubled past who returns to the village after the death of his father. When he digs up a time capsule he and his friends buried 22 years before, he finds a list with all their names on. And the dates of their deaths.

Moresnet © Nyklyn / Lompvis

Life versus fate

The race to stop this grim prophecy coming true leads Ben and journalist friend Zoe to Thalamus, a German neurotechnology company run by the brilliant scientist Robert Rolin and his granddaughter Eva.

“Ben has an existential angst, a fear within him, that he is trying to escape, but we pull him into the world and try to turn his face towards what is happening today,” says Van Passel, who devised the series with scriptwriter Jef Hoogmartens and co-showrunner Jonas Van Geel.

These current concerns include anxieties about politics, the environment, and technology. The result is a mystery thriller in which two visions of life collide: the malleability of life versus the inevitability of fate.

Starting with the story

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Director Frank Van Passel and screenwriter Jef Hoogmartens on the set of Moresnet ©

Unusually for a series, work on Moresnet began with the scripts. “I think it’s often a mistake to start with the pitch and then write the scripts,” Van Passel says. “For me, the pitch is a crystallisation of a working process.” He also wanted to be sure of attracting the international acting talent necessary to tell the story. “No good actor will say yes to a co-production if you don’t have the perfect script,” he says.

Van Passel and his collaborators were able to start working independently on the scripts thanks to support from the Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF). Once they had six episodes, they pitched to producers and connected with Lompvis and Caviar, which in turn brought on board Flemish streaming service Streamz. This formed the basis of the co-production financing, with Flare Film joining from Germany and Pupkin from the Netherlands.

The series was presented at Series Mania in 2022, resulting in a deal with international distributor Newen Connect.

It was clear that they had a very ambitious distribution plan for the series. In combination with their experience in releasing international series in the market and their enthusiasm for the show, Newen Connect felt like the perfect partner.

Producer Helena Vlogaert

German broadcaster ZDFneo then came on board, together with Dutch distributor Skoop Media. At this point Screen Flanders provided support to the co-production, while Dutch financing came from the Netherlands Film Production Incentive.

Attracting acting talent

Moresnet still
Moresnet ©

Van Passel’s emphasis on script quality paid off, with Dutch actor Pierre Bokma (Will) signing to play scientist Robert Rolin and German actress Leonie Benesch taking the role of Eva, his granddaughter and successor at the head of the company. A rising star in Germany, Benesch most recently starred in the Oscar-nominated film The Teachers’ Lounge.

This acting power was matched on the Flemish side, with Boris Van Severen (Baptiste) playing the central character, Ben. “Boris is already well-known in Belgium, but I’ve always thought his potential was so much bigger than the chances he has had until now,” says Van Passel, who worked with him on the series Renaissances

Stage actor Bram De Win is also expected to be a revelation. “Sometimes you find an actor with a long career in theatre, but when you put him in front of the camera something special starts to happen,” Van Passel says.

Meanwhile, Joke Emmers fulfils the promise of roles in Assisen and Billie vs Benjamin. “She is another wonderful actress from Flanders who, if you ask me, is a much bigger talent than she thinks she is.”

Adaptable locations

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Set picture Moresnet ©

The series was shot in locations across Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, with iconic aspects of Moresnet itself, such as the long railway bridge that passes over the village, naturally playing themselves. “We used those locations, of course, but for most others we shot in Flanders, because it is much more accessible,” says Van Passel.

Stand-out locations included a cloister in Leuven, which doubled for an insane asylum, and a former radio building in Overijse that brought period detail to scenes in an old laboratory. Scenes at the high-tech headquarters of Thalamus were shot at the offices of Barco in Kortrijk, an actual high-tech leader in Flanders. “From an architectural point of view, it is an amazing building, and it was a luxury to be able to shoot there.”

Effective crew

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Set picture Moresnet ©

Van Passel put together his crew from Flanders and the Netherlands, taking care to build units with shared experience. “For me, it’s extremely important that the DoP and the crew around him are really close,” he says. “So for Moresnet, the DoP Gerd Schelfhout, the focus puller, the gaffer and everyone behind the camera crew were Flemish.”

Moresnet is just the latest of Schelfhout’s series credits, following contributions to Marie Antoinette, Déjà Vu, Attraction, Professor T and others.

Meanwhile, the art department brought together Flemish production designer Geert Paredis and Dutch art director Florian Legters. “They worked closely together, to crowd in the most interesting talents from both sides of the border,” Van Passel says.

Visual post-production was done by Loom in Flanders, with the sound handled by Posta in the Netherlands.

Coming soon to Moresnet…

Van Passel thinks there is much more to discover about Moresnet and would like to revisit its heritage for future seasons.

“The historical importance of Moresnet is largely unknown,” he says. “During the 19th Century it was a tiny independent state, like Monaco or Lichtenstein, until it became part of Belgium after the First World War. So, if the first season of Moresnet is well-received, we would like to move, little by little, towards a season that fictionalises these historical events.”