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by Andrew S. Horton
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "Moscow Belgium" (Aka, Aanrijding in Moscou)

Love triangulation... with kids

In lucky years a comedy comes from foreign shores that is an absolute standout. Frequently, hilarious and ironic family farces are birthed in Italy ("Bread and Tulips," "Malena," 2000, "Life is Beautiful," 1997), and who can forget the slightly more outrageous "The Full Monty" from the UK in 1997? And those are just a few of the ones that scored well in America. It's no exaggeration to say that comedy films are a major strain in the domestic output of all film-producing countries.

For the year 2008, in any case, the source country for what I consider best tongue-in-cheek domestic yarn for its sheer wit and originality, is the Belgian entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the motion picture Academy, "Moscow Belgium."

Set in that workingman's town by screenwriters Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem and Pat van Beirs and directed by Christophe Van Rompaey, heretofore busy in Belgium TV, it features Matty (Barbara Sarafian, "Elektra," 2004) who, at 41, appears to us at first as a somewhat dumpy, overweight mother of three, initially seen shepherding her two youngest through a supermarket. After packing up the car with groceries and kids, she backs out of the parking spot and smacks into a bright yellow camion (truck).

Out comes driver Johnny raging against the crazy driver with the worthless car, demanding recompense for damages to his spotless pride and joy leviathan on wheels. But when someone in the gathering crowd calls out for the police in order to establish blame, Johnny (Jurgen Delnaet), a 29-year old blond hunk not unknown to law enforcement, turns defensiveand, oh so nice.

Suddenly, he's entreating her, bringing out lollipops for the kids, all apologetic. As they continue to trade jabs--she referring to him as a Viking for his initial tone of aggressive arrogance--it becomes evident that angry antagonism has evolved into a mutual playfulness as each becomes aware of the other's matching sense of humor and attractiveness.

Soon thereafter, having obtained Matty's phone number and address from the police report, he calls to offer his services in fixing the trunk of her car. Despite her turning him down, he shows up the next day at her doorstep with tool box in hand. By the time he's done with the body work, he's asking her to go out for a drink, trying not to be pushy.

As a wife and mother whose husband Werner (Johan Heldenbergh) left her for a younger woman months before, and as a woman counting the days until hubby'll realize his mid-life passion was a stupid mistake and return to the family fold, she's not keen on taking up with no truck driver. But, she's clearly enjoying the attention and "Mr. Johnny's" modest approach. Her earlier frumpiness now replaced by earthy sexuality, it's nice to be the object of someone's affections again.

On what she tells herself is a whim and a one-timer, she winds up banging the driver in his truck one hysterical night. He declares his abiding love and, indeed, his sincerity is unassailable. Meanwhile, Werner shows up repeatedly at the apartment and we find him to be no knight in shining armor as he meekly tries to maintain his tie to his former life, keeping open the prospect that his return isn't only a possibility but almost iminent. But no one's cheering for this dumb, indecisive wimp in Matty's love equation. Still, though we might find the choice between men easy to make for her, she herself is, by now, a mess of emotional confusion.

Hilarious, charming stuff, and the best romantic comedy I've seen all year-- from any country. In many stylistic and tonal ways, it's comparable to the surprise "Best Picture" of 2006 that is also a warm family comedy-drama, "Little Miss Sunshine."

Beginning actress Anemone Valcke makes a nice turn as Vera, mom's rebellious seventeen year-old daughter who has a tendency to be a catalist in the adult relationship derby, as well as providing a lightly treated sub-plot concerning the hot topic of sexual orientation.

If there are any flaws here it's in the casting. The husband is such a jerk. The disparity in ages and looks between the lovers are, perhaps, a tad incredible. But the personalities and chemistry blow those considerations away.

Distribution might be the challenge, but if you see "Moscow Belgium" on a marquee, don't fail to step inside for a joyful time out! If "In Bruges" didn't do it, this bit of native filmmaking will make you want to add Belgium to your travel itinerary.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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With tyke Fien (Sofia Ferri) looking on suspiciously--and perhaps protectively--that's mom Matty (Barbara Sarafian) making out with her adorer, young stud truck driver Johnny (Jurgen Delnaet).

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