Think of MOSCOW, BELGIUM as the little movie that could. Modestly produced with mostly TV talent on both sides of the camera, it went on to win about a ton of awards at various film festivals (most notably pocketing top prize at the Directors' Fortnight in Cannes) and wow audiences worldwide. A deceptively simple love story between two unlikely candidates, both recipients of life's harsh blows, it has captured the hearts of many. Case in point, in the town of Ghent, where the movie takes place (not too far from Bruges, where yours truly resides), it has been playing theatrically for well over a year now, still doing solid (often repeat) business and developing something of a cult reputation, even though it has been out on DVD for quite a while. In an effort to support my local film industry, I try to go and see every Belgian movie that makes it to theaters, and some of them only make it in 'n' out like lightning, often undeservedly so, such as with Pieter Van Hees' LINKEROEVER and subsequent DIRTY MIND, both of which will hopefully attract wider audiences on DVD. Quiet, leisurely paced and unassuming, AANRIJDING IN MOSCOU (original title, meaning : Collision in Moscou, an area of the Ghent suburb of Ledegem) won me over in spades, made me come back to the cinema for a second helping and, hey, I just bought that shiny little disc as well !
Director Christophe Van Rompaey cut his teeth on Flemish TV series like the wildly popular TEAM SPIRIT (expanding on Jan Verheyen's box office blast, itself a remake of the Dutch ALL STARS) and the sadly underrated sitcom HALLELUJA! He was known by a happy few frequenting film festivals for award-winning shorts GRIJS ("Grey") and OH MY GOD?! Just about the nicest guy you could ever hope to meet and a proud native of Ghent, he poured heart and soul into his feature debut which serves, among many other things, as a love letter to his home town. The screenplay by Pat Van Beirs and Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem, who penned such idiosyncratic children's fare as DE BAL ("The Ball") and SCIENCE FICTION for director Danny Deprez, enlivens its straightforward narrative structure spanning a couple of weeks, divided by white on black title cards indicating what day it is, with richly quotable dialog that frequently takes a 180° turn from hilarious to heartbreaking and back again, suppressing sentimentality from rearing its all too convenient cabeza. Taking place among impersonal high rise buildings and dimly lit watering holes, DoP Ruben Impens imbues these unpromising locations with an improbable poetry akin to his cinematic musings on the nocturnal city scapes of Felix Van Groeningen's annoyingly petulant though certainly atmospheric STEVE + SKY. Tuur Florizoone's melancholy score, heavy on the accordion (still one of the most underestimated instruments ever), hits all the right notes.
Still reeling from her husband's betrayal, an art teacher (played with self-mocking sincerity by Johan Heldenbergh) taking up with a student half his age, downtrodden mother of three Matty (the incomparable Barbara Sarafian) clearly has her mind elsewhere when she backs the family station wagon into a truck on the supermarket parking lot. Said truck contains blow hard Johnny, a knockout performance by heretofore unknown Jurgen Delnaet (who had a bit part in Guido Henderickx' scalding if sadly overlooked S.), who immediately launches into the expected diatribe against women drivers. Giving every bit as good as she gets, and then some, Matty bounces back. Insults fly but so do sparks and Johnny will become quite an important part of her life from now. More than ten years younger and with a short fuse, he's not an obvious candidate for romance. Besides, there are the kids to consider and Matty's still hoping her spouse will come to his senses now that his affair is nearing the six month mark.
A solid supporting actress, locally loved for her TV comedy work, the partly of Armenian descent Sarafian, in her first long overdue leading role, completely owns this film. Her Matty's no nobly suffering heroine but rather a down to earth sex goddess temporarily stalled by life's sad realities. When cornered, the claws come out. Like Jeanne Moreau in her prime, the actress has the ability to go from dowdy to desirable in the blink of an eye, not through any make-up or tricks of the light but something far more intangible like a slight change in facial expression combined with an innate dignity that transcends her tawdry surroundings. Her giggly delight as Matty rediscovers lust, well before love, provides the movie with but one of its myriad magic moments.
Of course, Van Rompaey supplied a flawless ensemble to lighten Sarafian's load. Stellar leading men aside, lovely Anemone Valcke (making her debut) steals scenes as Matty's level-headed teen daughter who's about to drop a bombshell of her own and there are cherish-able cameos from local comedians past and present. Chubby Jits Van Belle dispenses women's magazine fueled words of wisdom as Matty's no holds barred colleague at the post office, with frequent visits by the enamored undertaker Mr Jacques (indelibly portrayed by the magnificent Bob De Moor) serving as an understated but tremendously witty running joke. A particular grace note is supplied by the casting of legendary Ghent comedienne Yvonne Delcour as an outspoken pensioner who gets one of the film's biggest laughs, immediately followed in an indicative shift of tone by one of its most insightful lines as she reminds Matty of what's really important in life, unwittingly setting up the story's resolution. As life gets in the way, you too will be rooting for Matty and Johnny to overcome what seem like insurmountable obstacles. Hey, life is but fleeting and love is all that truly matters
13 out of 17 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.