De helaasheid der dingen (2009)
User ReviewsReview this title
The story is told from the point of view of a young man remembering his time as a thirteen-year-old... at the point where he is taken away from his family because of the degrading environment. I'm not going to go into a description of the film... simply to say that in all the films mentioned above, what shines out especially are the incredibly realistic performances...you totally forget that these are actors, and you learn something about the way "the other half lives", which may horrify you or disgust you, but somewhere in all that, their humanity wins you over. I find this to be a particularly Belgian trait...I can't think of any serious French films that have this capacity for realism, grittiness and humanity. And the ability to make you like something about all the characters, no matter how objectionable they might be for the most part. And of course, these days, there is nothing comparable coming from America, where everything is formulaic. (The closest I've seen to this kind of realism recently in American film is Winters Bone... which comes close but is too manufactured to work on a deeper level.)
The Misfortunates is not to be missed.
This little story has nothing and everything to do with 'Misfortunates' which is chock full of incidents like this one. And as abundant films about losers and social misfits may be in Belgian/ Dutch cinema (like Aaltra, The Sexual Life of Belgians, Flodders, Spetters), this one takes the cake in every respect: the autobiographical story is perfectly adapted and wonderfully played. Its provides tons of utterly irrelevant, but amusing add-ons like when the Strubbes invite themselves over to an exiled Iranian couple to force them into watching a Roy Orbison concert because their TV's been repossessed. Like in my little story, one cannot help but somewhat admire the persistence of the Strubbe family to make their lives as dysfunctional as humanly possible, while one cannot ignore the destructiveness of it all.
If you like painfully real social dramedy, this one is for you; if your threshold for witnessing the lower recesses of human behavior isn't very high, you're likely to find 'Misfortunates' an extremely tasteless affair.
Gunther was not a model student. Part of the problem was his inner conflict in which his family interfered in the way others saw him. Gunther is rejected by the only boy, Franky, that ever showed a semblance of being a true friend. Franky's father, decided his son didn't need a bad influence in his life, so the two became distant, as the worlds they both came from.
Being at the center of a hard drinking family also was a factor in Gunther's development. He saw his own father and uncles go to binges of drinking that rendered them useless. As Gunther gets older his relationship with a young woman is threatened when she becomes pregnant and he doesn't want her to have the baby. Gunther's, as a writer, experiences the rejection from publishers until a Dutch editor sees the merit of his life experiences in the novels he goes to write. The arrival of the baby soften Gunther's soul and then becomes the man he always wanted to be.
We were pleasantly surprised by what director Felix Van Groeningen was able to achieve with this film. He contributed to the screenplay in collaboration with Christophe Dirickx and Dimitri Verhulst. The Belgian cinema offers a different mixture of original ideas, that in the hands of the creator of this film, gives audiences a peek into a different way to present stories that capture the viewer's imagination.
Never saw Kenneth Vanbaeden, the young actor who plays Gunther as a young man. He reminds us of a young Ricky Schroeder when he was a child star in the American cinema. Mr. Vanbaeden is a natural; he gives an effortless performance as the child that grows without guidance and who owes everything he became to his grandmother's wishes to separate him from an alcoholic father and uncles that were leading him to a life of binging and perpetual drunkenness. Valentin Dhaenens is fine as the older Gunther. Koen De Graeve, an actor we admired in "Loft" plays Celle, the father that lives in a constant fog, neglecting his son. Gilda De Bal is effective as Meetje. The supporting cast is excellent.
Ruben Impens photographed the small Belgian town in all its drabness. The incidental music is by Jef Neve. We look forward to the next project of director Felix Van Groeningen, a talented voice from that part of the world with a lot to say.
Having said this, this film uses all of them to good effect. This brutal confrontation with the Flanders of Pieter Brueghel and Jacques Brel, is not without its pathetic and touching moments. It reminded me a lot of Quebec's "C.R.A.Z.Y" in its enthusiasms for its subject but with, of course, much more squalor.
The actors are all convincing and attractive in their own way and the direction is transparent and unobtrusive. The viewer should be warned that the opus is generously peppered with scenes of fornication, sometimes public, pissing, sometimes public, defecation, sometimes public, vomiting, sometimes public, public male nudity and transvestism, not to mention lots and lots of binge drinking.
I liked the anecdote in the "making of" documentary telling how one of the father's fake moustaches was fashioned from the male actors' and crew's pubic hair. It seemed fitting somehow.
Many scenes are just gross (eg: when the neglected house cat eats the puke of father, when father is pissing in his pants while he is sitting on a chair during a beer drinking game, when some of the brothers shoot a pigeon when it shits on the bedsheets, ...) But it is also a sympathizing movie. Almost everything is filmed in the eyes of a 13 year boy who lives together with his beer drinking asocial, ill-mannered family. It are actually his father, some uncles and his grandmother. The grandmother is very tiny, has nothing to say and is not in position to change house rules nor the way of life. The boy is raised by those men and unaware of his marginal life. He just follows his uncles in their tracks (and begins to drink, smoke, ... and joins all those nasty events with his uncles).
The beauty of the movie is: you just get pity with the boy.
There are virtually no meaningful interactions between men and women. RElationships impose on time critically needed for drinking beer. There are a few s....ing scenes, nothing like "having sex" or "making love" --- just short fast paced humping, of the let's-get-it-over-with variety. The men never rise to the level of sexual acts with women they necessarily like, so when the women get pregnant the men get annoyed.
One need not travel to Belgium to encounter this kind of dysfunctional living, as most of us found it in our own lives. The lucky ones, with ambition and tenacity, break away (as does the boy in this film) with the damned ones trying to drag us back, if we let them.
An interesting film, no doubt; but overpraised by other reviewers. Plan on a bath or shower when you get home. 6 of 10.