Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Moscow, Belgium

I told The Boy when we left the theater that he could probably claim to be the only 13-year-old American boy to see the Belgian-made Dutch-language movie Moscow, Belgium. Sage that he is, he said, "It doesn't matter what it's about as long as you care about the characters."

Dayamn. When I was 13? I was all about plot. Plot and boobies. (OK, I threw that in for Troop.)

Anyway, this is the wrong title for the movie. The Dutch title is Aanrijding in Moscow, which means "Collision In Moscow", I think. That's a better title but stupid Americans would think it was a Russian movie, I suppose. Not a Belgian movie. In Dutch.

I don't know why I'm fixated on that. I guess because I was listening to it and thinking, "That sounds Germanic more than Frankish," which is the sort of thing that bugs me. The last Belgian movie I saw (the fine Memory of a Killer) was in Frisian.

I digress.

This is the story of 43-year-old Matty, whose husband Werner has wandered off to have an affair with a younger woman but who won't divorce her and sort of hints about coming back (for six months!) and has made her miserable, raising her three kids alone except for the alternate weekend.

The story begins when frazzled Matty gets into an accident with 29-year-old truck driver Johnny and is taken aback by the fact that Johnny is strongly attracted to her. This is interesting because she's a complete shrew to him.

In fact, she's rather unpleasant throughout the beginning of the movie. On top of anger, sarcasm, bitterness, they also do the "no makeup and hair" thing so she looks a haggard 43 indeed.

But with his persistence, we start to see Matty change and get a glimpse in to what's made her so angry. (We also later get a full-on view of her body in a mirror which I think most even 20-something women would kill for.) And when she gives in (sort of), she has to take a hard look at what her husband has done and how she's let it affect her.

There's a curious element to this movie in that none of the characters are portrayed as victims. The cheap shot--the Hollywood formula--would be to have Werner be a jerk and Johnny be a saint, but Werner digs up dirt on Johnny and we find out he's far from a saint. And then, just to make things a little more complicated, the movie shows us Johnny being a jerk. Meanwhile, Werner brings back a lot of the old memories that made Matty attracted to him in the first place.

Werner is especially jerky, I guess, since he seems to not want to let go of either Matty or the girlfriend.

There's no "happily ever after" but this movie is hopeful--optimistic, even. We know the characters may be happy, but it won't necessarily be perfect or easy. And there's the subtext, or at least one subtext: Easy isn't always better.

There's another interesting bit of tension: Werner is an art professor; Johnny is a truck-driver. I somehow thought the enlightened peoples of Europe were beyond class wars as snobbery, but this movie brings the bigotry to the forefront. And it shows the prejudice going both ways as Werner turns out to be an insufferable snob--as does Johnny in his own way.

Ultimately, The Boy is right: While this movie is positively prosaic in its subject matter, ultimately you care about the characters, and so it works.

If you see only one Dutch-language Belgian film this year, make it this one.

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