Moscow, Belgium ***
Directed by Christophe Van Rompaey
Written by Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem and Pat van Beirs
Barbara Sarafian as Matty
Jurgen Delnaet as Johnny
Johan Heldenbergh as Werner
Anemone Valcke as Vera
Sofia Ferri as Fien
Julian Borsani as Peter
"Moscow, Belgium" is the rare type of romance that works with real people instead of Hollywood caricatures. It's interesting to me that I ended up seeing it the same day as the American "Last Chance Harvey," because both of them work in the romance where the woman has given up on romance and anything exciting in their lives. Only I think I got a bit more out of the lead performance by Barbara Sarafian, as opposed to "Harvey"'s Emma Thompson. As Matty, her biggest wish in life is to win the lottery one day, something that I believe is said by every middle aged woman who has to take care of an entire family on their own.
Matty is depressed after her husband Werner leaves her for another woman, citing a mid-life crisis as the reason. She works in a dead end job where she is constantly hit on one of the older men who comes in everyday, and to top it off she gets into a car accident after backing up into a truck. Out of the truck comes Johnny, twelve years younger than Matty, and the two of them get into a mild brawl in the parking lot. The cops come, and we learn that Johnny is experienced with them, for reasons that I will not spoil in this review. But its only a few days later that Johnny comes knocking at Matty's door asking her out, which is odd considering Matty's intense hatred for him. She does allow him to eat dinner with them, and then agrees to go out for a drink with him. The night ends with them having sex. While Matty expected a fling, Johnny expected something more, and keeps calling. He even buys her Italian shoes on a trip to Italy one day. Everything seems fine, and her three children seem to like Johnny, with the exception of the oldest who is a bit weary of him. That is until Werner comes to the door one day asking for Matty back, and suddenly she has to choose between the comfort of her husband, and the exciting and promising lifestyle that Johnny can offer.
it is obvious how the film will end, and who Matty will end up with. What makes the film work is that it works with characters that seem real. The choice is obvious because of the conventions of the genre, and not because the characters becomes products of it. Werner is not a complete jerk, despite the fact that his cell phone goes off practically every time he tries to get back together with Matty. He is not a bad person, but just one who is very flawed and does not know what to do with his life. In addition, Johnny is not the man of Matty's dreams, and he isn't "too good to be true." He is just a young man that has his eyes set on someone and does not want to let her go. Even the kids, and their acceptance and struggle with accepting Johnny, was given fresh eyes, and the lesbianism of the oldest daughter provides humor, and also makes sense considering what kind of male figures she had to grow up with.
"Moscow, Belgium" is a refreshing romantic comedy, and while it does loose some steam towards the end solely through the screenplay-and the back and forth between Johnny and Werner that started to get tedious. However, the two lead performances between Barbara Sarafian and Jurgen Delnaet were wonderful-and she gives such a realistic depiction of a haggard woman, and he gives the deserved energy needed for the character. It's a very rewarding film, and a well deserved respite from some of the more heavy films in the theatres at the moment.