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Arts and Entertainment

DVD Review: Moscow, Belgium

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By Edward Yerke-Robins

Working mother Matty faces each day with a bleary-eyed scowl and grievance list a mile long. Her children? Completely withdrawn, when they can be bothered to come home. Her housework? Piling higher and higher with no end or help in sight. Her post office job? Literally walling her off from the outside world. Her only friend? A repeat customer who chats her up between shipments of funeral invitations. Her husband Werner? Living across town with an art student young enough to be his daughter. To top it off, her car is rear-ended by a long-haul truck in the grocery parking lot. The truck's driver, Johnny, escapes with a serious tongue-lashing, only to show up at her apartment to repair vehicles and relations. Has Matty finally found a bright spot in her life, or is this budding romance just another trial to join her list?

Moscow, Belgium is no Cinderella fairytale. The Belgian film is a sweet tale of everyday people struggling to define love and happiness amidst the daily grind. Lead actors Barbara Sarafian (Matty) and Jurgen Delnaet (Johnny), virtual unknowns outside of Belgium (and, given such short IMDb listings, possibly even inside), resonate charm. It's refreshing to see characters who look, act and feel like real people, particularly in a romantic comedy. There's none of the disaffection of a Hollywood star vehicle, where an overreliance on glitzy personalities removes the heart and soul of the story.

Moscow, Belgium also contains a surprising edge to Johnny's backstory. His truck isn't the only thing tarnished when he meets Matty, and he struggles for self-worth after a couple prison terms. When the full nature of these incidents are revealed, it throws the story into a turmoil much deeper than generic cliches of missed flights or runaway brides. To its credit, Moscow, Belgium, isn't a dark film, and the integration of these incidents into the story is very matter-of-fact. Johnny's struggle for redemption further fleshes out his character, and adds dimension to Matty's romantic dilemma. It's a testament to the film's finesse that it can address serious topics like alcoholism and class conflict without killing the fun.

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In the real world, romance is both magical and ordinary. It's exciting and spontaneous, yet must be worked into packed schedules and pre-existing relationships. It's expressed in gifts of Italian shoes and blood-sausage stew. Moscow, Belgium embodies this duality as few films can. It's a hidden gem that details both the diamond and the rough.

Moscow, Belgium is available on DVD through NeoClassics Films Home Entertainment. The disc includes a featurette with Barbara Sarafian and director Christophe Van Rompaey on the film's positive reception and surprise awards at Cannes '08. Their personalities are as humble, down-to-earth and folksy as their characters. The disc also features an audio-commentary with Rompaey and writer/producer Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem. For further coverage, please read LAist's review from the 2008 festival circuit.

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