By Stephen Rubin
If you have ever wondered what the Flemish language sounds like, Moscow, Belgium provides an opportunity to hear that it is a gentler mix of German, French, a little Spanish and, of course, some tones of English. This rare Flemish crossover, award-winning romantic-comedy hit is a mix of world cinema, a typical character-driven European film with shades of American indie fare and its own authentic and unique flair.
The movie starts with a long shot of a tired looking woman, Matty (Barbara Sarafian), who retains some of the obvious beauty of her youth before life wore her down, as she shops with her children. Outside in the parking lot, she backs her modest car into the front of a large trailer truck. Regardless of whether the truck was supposed to be behind her or she was supposed to back up without looking more closely, Matty was supposed to meet the much younger Johnny (Jurgen Delnaet), the truck driver. Or maybe she was not.
This sometimes funny, often very sad drama could be much more depressing were it not for the believable charm of the main characters and the intricate relationships among the characters, who sparkle with true-to-life elements.
Director Christophe Van Rompaey, in his feature debut, fills the story with tones of believability and directs his actors to bring strong empathy and pathos to their characters. Matty has obviously been happier with her life and, as she later tells her daughter, Vera, had a hopeful vision of a happy and safe life with her husband, an artist named Werner, when they first fell in love.
Johnny, at first, appears to be an angry Cro-Magnon but quickly reveals his charming and caring side, which hides behind a gruff exterior that matches his working-class neighborhood, Moscow, in the modest town of Ghent, Belgium.
While Matty is clearly saddened by the state of her life and Johnny is frustrated at where his anger has taken him, both hold on to an inherent pride in themselves. Matty is proud of her family and her job at the post office, a job that isn’t exciting but offers her contact with customers and coworkers with whom she has amiable relations. Johnny is proud of the truck in which he lives and of his upbringing as the son of a train conductor. The only character who does not walk with pride is the not-so-likable Werner who is torn between desires to return to his wife and children versus running off with his young adventurous lover.
While in the background, the children are an important part of Matty’s life, particularly Vera, who, at 17, seems to be the wisest and happiest of the clan. She also reveals the film’s secret in a subtle and tender way—further testament to Van Rompaey’s deft hand at painting this tender portrait of the beautiful challenges of leading a “normal” life.
Stephen Rubin is the Founder and CEO of Julesworks, LLC, a consulting firm that works with filmmakers and film festivals.
Directed by Christophe Van Rompaey
Written by Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem and Pat Van Beirs
With Barbara Sarafian, Jurgen Delnaet, Johan Heldenbergh, and Anemone Valcke
102 mn., NR