In the pantheon of 20th century music icons it is almost unheard of to discover, decades later, new fly-on-the wall insights to the artist's most controversial period.
Fans of Jacques Brel, the legendary Belgian chanteur, have long raked over the coals of his final years.
Most of the attention has gone to a sun-kissed sea voyage in the 1970s aboard a sailboat called the Askoy, that took the star from the North Sea to the Pacific, abruptly cutting him off from the limelight.
The trip and the questions that surround it are the heart of a new documentary directed by France Brel, the singer’s daughter, that can only be seen in a small museum in Brussels devoted to one of Belgium’s greatest heroes.
Brel exploded onto the music scene in the late 1950s and is best known for his electrifying performances of devastating songs such as "Amsterdam", "Au Suivant", and "Ne Me Quitte Pas".
The latter, "Don't leave me" in English, is a haunting ballad about dying love and has been covered by a whole line of global artists, including Sting, Nina Simone and Celine Dion.
It could also serve as the theme to his complicated relationship with Belgium, which he left in his early twenties to make his fortune as a singer in Paris, the path chosen by many French-speaking artists in the small country.
- 'Suicidal' -
But Brel, 24 at the time, not only left his boring job at his dad's cardboard factory, but also his wife, Thérèse Michielsen, known as "Miche", and two daughters (a third child would be born later).
From that point forward, Brel remade himself a musical icon under the klieg lights in Paris while his family went about a normal life in the relative backwater of Brussels.
Flash-forward to 1974, when Brel, having abandoned live performances, was gripped by self-doubt, partly because an ambition to become a film director was flailing.
Frustrated, Brel set sail with his girlfriend Maddly Bamy, a French-Caribbean actress he had met three years earlier on the set of Claude Lelouch's film "L'aventure c'est l'aventure".
But Brel also invited on board France, the second of his three daughters in Belgium and she would witness key scenes in the singer's final act.
On paper, it was an adventure, but the voyage was soon disrupted by a succession of trips back and forth to Europe, including to Switzerland where the singer would be diagnosed with the lung cancer that would eventually kill him.
"It was the opposite of a quiet trip. It was a form of suicidal escape", France told AFP at a small screening in Brussels.
The new documentary, "Chronique d'une vie", features troves of never before seen scenes, including with Brel's girlfriend, and collaborations with others who had long refused to reveal anything about the difficult period.
- 'Dragging your skirts' -
France, 21 at the time, hoped Maddly Bamy would only be there for a short time as it hadn't been ruled out that her mother would join the trip -- which never happened.
"I can't see you dragging your skirts onto the Askoy," Brel wrote to his wife at the time. The Brel clan will always believe that Bamy gatecrashed the trip.
Whatever the case, in January 1975, matters boiled over and during a stop-over in Martinique, Brel said "adieu" to his daughter and carried on to the Marquesas Islands, in Polynesia, with Bamy.
Forty-six years later, his daughter holds no grudge, even though she would only see her dad once again before his death, in 1978, at the age of 49.
France Brel says that the revelation of his lung cancer turned everything upside down for him.
His illness and his unwillingness to accept it are a major focus of the story, which is peppered with anecdotes about events like the time Brel was admitted under a false name to the maternity wing of a well-known Brussels hospital.
Bamy and wife Miche (who died in 2020) would take turns at his bedside.
For Brel's daughter, the purpose of the film is to capture a controversial moment in her father's life that has long been hidden.
"I wanted to present a man with all his frailties and weaknesses, in a deeply tormented period," she explained during a screening to a small audience.
France Brel has limited the broadcast of the documentary, despite the huge interest in her father.
One screening per day is scheduled at the Brel Foundation in Brussels. Viewings by appointment.