Moscow, Belgium (Aanrijding In Moscou)

Barbara Sarafian as Matty and Jurgen Delnaet as Johnny in "Moscow, Belgium" (Aanrijding In Moscou), directed by
Christophe Van Rompaey.  The film opened yesterday in Los Angeles at the Music Hall 3 and Town Center 5 Cinemas. 
(Photo: NeoClassics Films)

There's Something About Matty:
Reawakening A Rumpled Life In Belgium After An Accidental Meeting Of Metal

By Omar P.L. Moore/    SHARE
Saturday, March 7, 2009

Have you ever had a literally accidental meeting while driving and then pursued a relationship with the person you collided with?  In real life it may happen extremely rarely if at all, what with road rage abundant but if you omit David Cronenberg's 1996 film "Crash" from the cinematic vocabulary of the recent past, there haven't been many of these happy (or unhappy) accident motor romances on the big screen lately, although in "Moscow, Belgium" ("Aanrijding In Moscou") directed by Christophe Van Rompaey, one promises to percolate.  Matty (Barbara Sarafian), separated from her husband and a 41-year-old mother of three, is adjusting to a life of routine nothingness, in a near catatonic state working at a local pay kiosk in Belgium.  A baleful expression accompanies everything Matty does, whether shopping at a supermarket or taking a bath or cooking or talking to her kids.  There's rarely a smile to be had anywhere on her sad and tired face. 

Early on at a supermarket parking lot Matty's car reverses into a hunk of metal, a truck driven by Johnny (Jurgen Delnaet) and it is this metaphorical and actual meeting that sets the stage for the rest of this passionate well written story by Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem and Pat Van Beirs.  The initial encounter: Girl's car rear-ends into boy's truck, boy and girl argue, boy proposes to fix the damage to girl's rear-end.  Much of the film is foreshadowed with irony through the initially heated and contentious dialogue between Matty and Jurgen.  Other than these and other excitable moments, Matty generally engages in the banal.  Her children all want to be adolescents immediately, even though only one of them Vera (Anemone Valcke) is.  The spark of life has seemingly left Matty.  Her husband Werner (Johan Heldenbergh) has run off with Gail, a 20-something student whom he teaches at a local art school.  Meanwhile, Johnny's history and circumstances are shaky at best, with his violent, hair-trigger temper and a wife who divorced him for the very matrimonial lawyer she had adulterous encounters with.  Be that as it may, for Johnny There's Something About Matty -- aside from the fact she's twelve years older than Johnny -- that appeals to him.

"Moscow, Belgium" is a classic tragicomedy of love, entanglements and the weariness of life, set over a three-week period.  The film has a lot of wry humor, much of which comes from Mr. Van Rijckeghem and Mr. Van Beirs' tight, sharply-worded script but also from the emotionally conflicted Matty, played with a rumpled sweetness and acidity by Ms. Sarafian, who in the film's opening scenes could at least be briefly mistaken for Frances McDormand or Toni Collette, but her Matty is no Big (or Little) Miss Sunshine.  In Mr. Van Rompaey's film Ms. Sarafian smartly combines cynicism, warmth and an earthy sex appeal to lend richness and depth to her character.  Mr. Delnaet is admirable as Johnny, a roguish but charming young man who tries to smooth out his rugged edges in pursuit of Matty. 

The strength of "Moscow, Belgium" is in its maturity, complexity and brazenness.  The two lead performers go for broke with no holds-barred volatility and combust and to its credit the film doesn't modulate its more explosive moments.  The characters, like life itself, are constantly in transition, whether it's Werner, who can't decide whether he wants to leave his Lolita and return to his wife, or Vera's own pre-twenties angst and love life, or Johnny's ability to keep his anger in check, or Matty's increasingly difficult dilemma of whether to be separated and single or reunite with Werner.  All of these illustrate the human situation mapped out in the most intriguing scenarios, and "Moscow, Belgium", shot mostly in earth tones and a near-monochromatic scheme amidst the occasional bleakness of the towns of Moscou in Lederberg and Ghent in Belgium, is a humorous, lovely, unbridled triumph.  It's off to the romantic races, with hearts-a-racing.

With: Sofia Ferri and Julian Barsani.

"Moscow, Belgium" (Aanrijding In Moscou) opened yesterday in Los Angeles at the Music Hall 3 and Town Center 5 Cinemas and in numerous other U.S. cities.  The film has also played in New York and opened last week in San Francisco.  The film is in the Flemish language with English subtitles.  The film's duration is one hour and 42 minutes and is not rated by the Motion Picture Association Of America.  It contains nudity, language and sexual situations.


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