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Both travellers are intentionally depicted as unlikeable. The filmmakers rather daringly go against audience sentiment, deliberately undermining any sympathy that the physical handicap of the main characters would give them. One of the two handicapped men is shown asking passers-by to help him across the road ... and then he tries to snatch their wallets while they assist him! Elsewhere, there is a great deal of pratfall comedy at the expense of the two paraplegics.
The entire film is shot in stark, washed-out monochrome. I suspect that this was a necessity due to the very low production budget, but the filmmakers have cleverly turned this to the advantage of the narrative. The whole film looks like some stark minimalist seriocomedy by Samuel Beckett. Imagine Vladimir and Estragon in wheelchairs, on their way to see Godot. Or two Hamms without a Clov.
There are some bizarre continuity lapses: these seem to be down to the low budget. And there is also a very gratuitous insertion of a naked woman; I suspect that the distributor insisted upon this, in order for the film to get a larger audience. 'Aaltra' is not to all tastes, but I laughed heartily and the filmmakers show real ability. I'll rate this movie 7 out of 10.
First, it's shot in beautiful, stark black-and-white, always the best, in my opinion, for watching faces the shadows bringing out the grimaces, smiles, sadness, despair etc, in a way that colour misses. Second, most of the players in this story are nameless. Third, there is virtually no musical sound track; but there is a hilarious scene at a biker gathering when le chanteur finlandais (Bouli Lanners) sings in English the well know blues song, 'Sonny'. And, finally, the story is told more or less visually, as good cinema should; while the sparse dialog fills in the narrative 'gaps' for the viewer.
It doesn't start as a road movie at all: two locals in a provincial town have an argument that results in both of them rendered paralyzed from the waist down. After a period of hospitalization, they both return to their homes in wheelchairs, realizing that their lives are ruined unless they try to get compensation from the company that produced the faulty equipment that caused their injuries. So, they decide to go to Finland together, to the headquarters of the company Aaltra and demand compensation. And so, they begin their journey in wheelchairs! The rest of the story isn't really about Aaltra, at all. Instead, the directors who also play the two paralyzed protagonists use that scenario to explore and satirize how ordinary people treat the wheelchair bound and vice-versa, setting up some moments of side-splitting humour and irony as the two travel 3000 km to finally reach their objective. And, what an objective it is...which I'll leave you to discover.
For me, this movie is a treat, a feast about why people go out of their way to be helpful, kind, difficult, unpleasant, devious, obnoxious etc and what can happen when they lose the capacity for trying to understand another's point of view. It's an object lesson for all, and a very funny one to boot.
Highly recommended for all lovers of good cinema and clever comedy.
Visually, I enjoyed the painterly quality of the over lighting of many scenes, which allows moments of reflection and, in the tradition of true art, encourages the viewer to see everyday objects or scenes in a new light. Again, I don't think it spoils anything as it's merely a brief passing scene, to suggest you look out for example for the tall thin man in the wheelchair at the railway station, disappearing into the light after passing one of the main protagonists in a doorway - it reminded me of the paintings of Francis Bacon among others. Even grim events can have a visual beauty, or at the least an arresting quality about them, and this is a film that has the courage to flaunt the fact and doesn't shy away from what is at first sight mundane or ugly. And as it highlights the hidden beauty of many ugly things so it also highlights the humour that can accompany the most unfortunate events. Even dreadful people have stories worth telling.
As regards the humour, it is indeed black and cynical but at the same time, and as is reinforced by the ending, it actually leaves the viewer (or this one at any rate) with a warm feeling and a sense almost of admiration for the sheer dogged tenacity and survival instinct of the two main protagonists. Moreover, the humour marinated in my mind so that next day, when trying to recount some of the scenes to friends, I found myself crying with laughter so that I was barely coherent, and seeing even more humour than I had noticed at the time.
This is not an unpolished piece of work; it is in fact skillful and deceptively subtle. A more obviously polished style would have sat uncomfortably with the spirit of the piece. It works on more than one level, rewarding anyone who can view it completely clear of any assumptions, prejudices or unnecessarily prudish criteria. It doesn't waste time being polite, it just tells it like it is. Remember you're just watching it. It's only fiction and art and you don't need to approve or disapprove. Just experience and hopefully enjoy.
I can't wait for it to be available on DVD so I can share it with my friends.
Maybe the plot/scenario, especially the end, is not the strongest part of the movie, but over 30 superb scenes make well up for this and make it overall a great movie in its genre.
It also intends to make you reflect on your position towards handicap persons and the way they are generally treated in our society. Whereas they are in most cases reflected as the person in need for help, the current directors/actors (same) simply exploit this situation. They were right to do so :).
The early scenes seem deliberately, almost diabolically discontinuous and thus the unfolding of the story is puzzling for a while. Shot in grainy black & white, the movie seems like verité; at first one even wonders whether this is possibly a documentary. The Finnish biker Karaoke scene is by itself almost worth the price of admission. Dripping with drollery (sorry folks, I just can't seem to shake my obsession with alliterative riffs on the letter "d" today), this film recalls the comedies of the Finnish director, Aki Kaurismäki, who, in fact, has a cameo role at the end of this movie, as the Aaltra plant owner. My grade: B 7/10
This is about the neighbors hating each other. Hate gets them into an accident and they both end up in wheel chairs. They begin to need each other and the silent and in many ways literally unmoving friendship starts.
This is a black comedy where you after a while start to laugh, not at the two friends but at the circumstances around them. That's probably also the message.
Despite these qualities, it seems that a clear narrative (as well as geographical) direction what was lacking. I did not really have strong feelings for the story or its characters, which left me definitely seduced, but not enthralled.
A rare combination of real-life drama and black humor, this low-budget film from Belgium is a treat from start to finish. Shot in b/w Scope, almost every frame of this refreshingly original road-movie on wheelchairs seems to contain a delightful comic set-up, greatly enhanced by its grainy 16mm b/w photography.
The film kicks off in a rural area south of Brussels, where Gus and Ben (played by the writer-directors, K/Vern and Delépine) are neighbors. Gus is a farmer and spends most of his time daydreaming on his tractor. Ben is a commuter, who has trouble at his work in the city and with his marriage. Both are very unhappy with their lives but most off all, the two men work on each other's nerves. One day, as Ben hurries to get to work on the small road leading to their house, Gus willfully obstructs the way with his tractor. Ben climbs on Gus' tractor and starts a fight, part of the machinery falls on top of the men and the next day they wake up in the hospital, paralyzed from the waist down. Gus decides to head for Finland in order to claim indemnity from the tractor company, named Aaltra. What follows is a road-movie on wheelchairs through Europe in order to reach their goal.
Part of what makes it all so strangely endearing is the fact that the two men are in a wheelchair, which makes a perfect excuse for some comic situations. Every simple thing they do, from trying to get money or food to innocent remarks made to strangers, becomes hilarious because of the way everyday people tend to react to the disabled. Due to the almost universal belief in the goodness of disabled people in general, Gus and Ben are able to shamelessly take advantage of even the most helpful and friendly persons they encounter. The fact that the two men aren't in the least sympathetic is exactly what gives the film it's edge. They remain malevolent hostile bastards, just as hostile against each other as against the outside world they have to cope with.
Considering it's minimal budget, the cinematography is great. Beautifully shot in grainy black-and-white, with many extreme long shots, many of them without dialog. And K/Vern and Delépine are talented comedians (especially in silent comic expressions), but they somehow managed (or got the right people to do it for them) to give the film a real cinematographic touch. A rare achievement.
Aki Kaurismäki and Benoît Poelvoorde appear in the film in small roles, although the latter is tough to spot. You have to be familiar with his legs or voice to recognize him.
Camera Obscura --- 9/10
The acting of the main character is good, I like the landscape they choose and the old texture of this black and white movie which remind me of "C'est arrivé près de chez vous".
Sure everybody won't be able to laugh, especially non-french speaker, if you don't know France and their strange country people, you won't like this movie, but still I am disappointed that the rating is so low for this movie because its humour is really special, it's almost a snuff movie :)
For me it's a good movie, made without money totally independent.8/10