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'Aaltra', made on a budget of about ninepence (and showing every penny
of it) is a harsh and unsentimental comedy about a couple of
paraplegics who go on a road trip from Belgium to Finland by means of
hitch-hiking in their wheelchairs. The fact that the two travelling
companions are bitter enemies only adds to the bizarre hilarity.
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.
Aaltra is a film like no other. It is not just dark humour it's a pitch black comedy. The only thing is that the comedy doesn't start at the beginning of the film and I was wondering if someone had got it wrong. When too feuding neighbours both get themselves in to a fight a subsequent accident with a tractor leaves them both paralysed from the waist down. Wheelchair bound and completely inept at being disabled the two then venture on a highly bizarre road trip to try and get compensation from the company who's tractor got them in the mess in the first place. Where are the laughs? I hear you cry, well about twenty minutes into the film I started to chuckle and by the end I was wiping the tears from my eyes. You see the genius of the humour is in the main characters, who continue to feud, but secretly get on and aid each other in their quest. Imagine grumpy old men on wheels. Getting mugged, mugging themselves, stealing, out staying there welcome as irritating house guests, getting drunk, lost and in allsorts of scrapes once it gets going there isn't a dull moment. They say the essence of comedy is timing and these two are the masters of the pregnant pause, this added to the fact that they just look funny makes this film so enjoyable to watch. I don't want to give too much away; I want you all to experience the film as I did. Know a little not a lot about it and enjoy it loads.
Overall this movie is so much better and funny then any comedy I have
seen for the last few years. Jokes are cynical and sarcastic sometimes,
black humour style often, however they are super original !
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 :).
To me this film epitomises the surreal underbelly of everyday life. I
don't think it constitutes a "spoiler" to say that the film portrays in
a strangely endearing way the boyish pigheadedness of grown men and the
strength this and their devotion to their obsessions can give them. It
also portrays the bleak loneliness of the island each man can become if
he's not very lucky and the unlikely ways in which this loneliness can
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.
Forget about Thelma and Louise (1991), The Sugarland Express (1974) and
others: this is a road movie with a real difference actually many
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.
Delépine and de Kervern are Belgian comedians who conceived, wrote,
directed and starred in this deliciously dark comedy about two rural
neighbors (one is a farm hand, the other a business man who commutes to
the city), men who hate each other and, in one horrid fight,
accidentally inflict wounds that result in each becoming paraplegic.
Now wheelchair bound, they find themselves thrown together, hitchhiking
on a long road journey to Finland, to the Aaltra plant, where a piece
of farm machinery was made, equipment that figured in their injuries,
to seek compensation. Along the way, naturally, their mutual antipathy
gives way, first to interdependence, and from there to a crude sort of
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
Belgian film is having a great period and Aaltra is another proof of
that. It's rather back to the basics. It's so basic that the actors for
long periods don't speak. They even don't have any mimic during these
periods. Still much is said all the time.
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.
Aaltra is definitely worth a try. The photography (grainy
black-and-white) is very well composed, and the pictures are often
beautiful, or at least kind of puzzling --even though they are merely
showing a train, a field, or a tractor....The film is clearly pretty
odd, and reminded me of the absurd atmosphere present in Kaurismakis'
movie. Better, the film has a refreshing cynical black humor and has
the courage of treating wheel-chair people without being patronizing at
all (i.e., without any more respect than everybody else)... The humour
reminded me a little bit of Man Bites Dog (C'est arrive pres de chez
vous), although in a much milder tone which should be more acceptable
for the mainstream.
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.
AALTRA (Gustave de Kervern, Benoît Delépine - France/Belgium 2004)
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
This movie was excellent, the jokes are completely different from the
TV show, it's subtle humour you laugh just with the situations and the
faces of the actors which are for the most non pro.
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
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