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Arts and Entertainment

LAist Movie Review: Moscow, Belgium

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It always comes as a breath of fresh air when a film and it’s filmmakers don’t just give us what they think we want to see, or what they think we deserve; instead, they give us the truth. There are many different genres, styles, techniques and schools of thought that surround the entertainment industry as a whole, and more than a few of those will push for beauty and strength and morality above honesty. Sometimes the story doesn’t have to be about animated drug dealing robots from the Civil War who fall in love. Maybe, sometimes, it can just be about what’s real.

Often times, this is cringingly apparent in romantic comedies, where the subject matter (by necessity) is often rooted in reality, but the paths taken and the subsequent outcome veer so sharply from this base point that it’s very foundation become unrecognizable lampoons of truth. How many guys do you know that have stood in the rain outside their lover’s house with a boombox over their heads, only to have it ‘all work out’? How many people are in your contacts list that have taken a weekend fling to Tuscany and never come back, leaving unknown debts and unanswered voicemails to the wind, with nary a care on their face?

Where films and stories like these take their turn, Moscow, Belgium stays the course, and asks the questions that are ultimately much tougher to answer. What if? What if the man who might be from your dreams wasn’t just poor, he had a criminal record and a history of violence against women? What if the man you loved kept trying to hedge his bets with a younger woman in one ear and you in the other? What if you didn’t want a Tuscan cottage or a life of melodrama, you just wanted a home and a family and a simplicity the world has heretofore been unable to supply? Acclaimed Belgian director Christophe Van Rompaey certainly tries to find out.

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Moscow, Belgium opens on a harried older woman, Matty. She is broken, gliding through life with only a vague notion of a future in which she wishes for the happiness she has not had in far too long. After a careless fender-bender brings Johnny the truck driver into her life, she begins to regain the vibrancy and vitality she had previously lost. But at what cost? Struggling to raise her three children as her husband all but flaunts his new relationship with a former student, Matty must quickly decide where her life is headed. And after some discouraging news about Johnny surfaces, the decisions become even harder. Should Matty forgo pride and and the unknown potential for long-lasting happiness in favor of the stability and familiarity of a returning husband? Or should she risk a potentially dangerous relationship with a loving man who appears to be all wrong for her? In life, these situations do occur, but on film the outcome is always much more civil. No loose ends or dirt to sweep under the wrong; just a commitment to one and credits rolling for all. No one really has to make the stronger choice, between a (reformed?) wife beater and a man who lets his pants determine his fancy?

Ruining the ultimate choice here would be a disservice to Moscow, Belgium, and to lead actress Barbara Sarafian, who must wear much more than her heart on her sleeve. She is strong because she must but, and delicate because she knows no other way. She feels and hurts and arrives at answers in a refreshing way not often seen on screen; and so, much credit must be given to writers Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem and Pat van Beirs as well. The scenes themselves portray no outlandish beauty; a grocery store, a sad pub, the cluttered cab of a big rig that is all one man has left. But the people, the dialogue that is allowed to inhabit these spaces give the scenes the color and breadth they need. Mostly troubling, sometimes funny, and occasionally sad, the film rolls along much like any of us would, leaving the audience struggling with their analysis of the same decisions being made on screen.

While there is little to the film that suggests it will become an international cult phenomenon, Moscow, Belgium gives the audience something not usually seen on screen: believability. Not just in acting portrayals or dialogue, but in the framework of the piece itself. You may not choose as Matty chooses, but as an audience member you should be grateful to have just been given the honest option.

Moscow, Belgium is currently on a stateside film festival tour, and has picked up awards at Cannes and the Zurich Film Festival 2008.

Photo courtesy NeoClassics Films