Aanrijding in Moscou (Moscow, Belgium – English title) (2008)
Here’s a film I took a chance on, not expecting much but which turned out to be surprisingly good. Those interested in older woman/younger man themes take note: the heroine is a full 12 years older than her younger love interest.
Matty (Barbara Sarafian) is basically sleepwalking through her life when she accidentally causes a fender bender to long haul driver Johnny’s (Jurgen Delnaet) truck in a grocery store parking lot. It’s definitely not “meet cute” as the two strike sparks as they wait for the police to show up to file an accident report. But something about her “kiss off” attitude catches Johnny’s interest and soon he’s showing up at her apartment to fix the damage to her car and ask her out for a drink.
But Matty’s plate is full with her three children and wandering husband Werner (Johan Heldenbergh) who’s moved out and is now living with one of his 23 year old students while he dithers about filing divorce papers. She doesn’t believe Johnny’s protestations that he’s only interested in a drink and after pushing him to be honest, they end up rocking the cab of his truck after which she shows up home with her shirt put on inside out – which her almost 17 year old daughter Vera (Anemone Valcke) calls her on.
However you don’t get to be 41 (Matty) or even 29 (Johnny) without some emotional baggage and when Matty learns about Johnny’s past problems with an ex-wife and alcohol, will she turn back to the safe, no-problems marriage with a husband who looks like he wants to come back or take a chance on the man who’s woken her back up to life?
The original title translates to collision in Moscow which I think is a better title as it plays on the actual accident which brings Matty and Johnny together as well as the collision of their lives. I found it to be quite funny though it’s not a slapstick “obviously trying to be funny” kind of humor but instead laughter which bubbles up from the real life situations and the way the actors play them.
I like the world weary tone Matty has. She’s got all the issues already mentioned but is also a blue collar postal worker who lives in a working class suburb of Ghent and who is rapidly getting past taking any kind of guff from the men in her life. She does want her husband back but several times tells him she just wants a decision, either way. It takes her a long time to believe that Johnny wants anything more from her than a quickie and his past does give her pause. He’s actually the one who pushes the most for a relationship and it’s his zest and romanticism which finally wake her up to taste and feel life again. Watch how Barbara Sarafian changes from a zombie slogging through the grocery store to a woman on fire who finally grabs for what she wants in life.
The three children all add to the story but the main one is Vera, a young actress in her first film role, who’s having relationship issues of her own. She’s the one who asks her mother a pivotal question after a scene in which both the men competing for Matty engage in a “pissing contest” over the dinner table. (And watch how Matty brings an end to that!) Is Johnny the one making her mother unhappy? When Matty says no, it’s a major step in the direction she ultimately decides to take in choosing wide open over safe but dull.
Jurgen Delnaet is fabulous and believable as the younger man who can’t help his attraction to Matty. He’s working class and has some choice things to say about Matty’s academic husband but he’s also a hopeless romantic who sings to her on his cell phone from his truck as he drives to Italy where he buys her beautiful shoes to set off her nice ankles. Johan Heldenbergh is also good as the stuffy, snobby stick who’s smothered Matty yet can’t seem to let her go.
I love how the film makers set the story in a working class environment and took the effort to cast only actors who were from Ghent and who speak the local dialect. They also included several “eating” scenes featuring favorite Flemish dishes. Listen to their informative commentary track for more fun tidbits about the film and the actors.
As I said, the film is surprisingly good for it’s slightly bleaker tone than the average romantic comedy. It’s more a slice of real, working class life and ends not with a true HEA but more a ‘happy for now’ and we’ll see about the future.
Johnny: Do you know what they say in Italy?
Johnny: ‘Ti Amo’
Matty: D’you know what they say in Ledeberg?
Matty: ‘Kiss my ass!’
I gotta love a woman who does speak her mind. B-