Thursday, April 30, 2009

Belgian Road Movie: Eldorado

Belgium might be a small country, but it is big enough for a road trip. Evidently, it can also get a little weird out there on those Belgian highways. Such is the experience of Yvan and Elie when they set off in Bouli Lanners’s Eldorado (trailer here), Belgium’s official submission for the 2008 Best Foreign Language Academy Award, which opens tomorrow in New York.

The two road buddies do not exactly meet cute. When Yvan, a John Goodman-looking vintage car dealer returns home one night, he finds Elie the junkie in the middle of an incompetent burglary attempt. For personal reasons, he takes mercy on the gaunt and greasy Elie, even taking it upon himself to drive him to his estranged parents’ home.

Of course, out on the open road, anything can happen, as Eldorado’s two mismatched sad sacks encounter all kinds of inclimate weather and eccentric characters. The film effectively evokes many uncomfortable memories of cross-country road trips. It seems like poor Yvan and Elie are always lost and shivering in the cold, dark rain.

Director Lanners also costars as Yvan, and he fills out the role quite effectively. He is definitely a crying-on-the-inside kind of clown, who has some particularly touching moments with Elie’s mother, played with heartbreaking honesty by Françoise Chichéry. Unfortunately, as Elie, the rather wooden Fabrice Adde makes a particularly weak foil for Lanners, the far more interesting screen presence of the duo.

Though Eldorado follows most of the quirky, bittersweet conventions of the road movie, when it ultimately arrives at its destination, it turns out to be a very dark place indeed. In fact, some viewers might be disturbed by a plot point involving a dying dog, mortality injured in an apparently senseless act of cruelty.

While Eldorado offers some lovely scenery, it is hardly a commercial for Belgian tourism. It is a naturalistic portrayal of increasingly rootless and disconnected people. Its humor is fleeting, but its pessimism lingers. At least it makes an impression, though. It opens tomorrow in New York at the Angelika.