Moscow, Belgium (2008): Flemish Christopher Van Rompaey’s Feature Debut. Quirky Serio-Comedy is Award Winner at Cannes

Cannes Film Fest 2008—Flemish TV director Christopher van Rompaey makes a quirky feature debut in Moscow, Belgium, a serio-comedy which centers on a peculiar love triangle of a middle-aged woman and mother of three, caught in between two lovers, her estranged jealous husband and a much younger gallant man.

World-premiering at the 2008 Cannes Fest in the Critics Weeks series, this Belgian entry should play the global festival road, perhaps even get limited theatrical release in the U.S.

Best marketing hooks is splendid performance by Barbara Sarafian, who had previously appeared in Peter Greenaway’s “81/2 Women”), as the central figure in an engaging serio-comedy that vaguely recalls the early, more eccentric work of Brit helmer Mike Leigh.

Moscow, or “Moscou” in Flemish, is a densely populated working class neighborhood on the outskirts of Ghent, Belgium.

Sarafian plays Matty, 41, a mother of three, who one day bumps her car into a truck on the parking lot of a super­market.

Enters Johnny (Jurgen Delnaet), who’s infuriated by the dent in his front bumper and yells at Matty. Unfazed, Matty fights back with sharp words. Soon, their discussion turns into a row, and the police is called to intervene.  When Matty heads home, the trunk of her car is literally dancing up and down.

Back in her apartment, Matty takes a hot bath to recover from the afternoon’s emotions when the phone rings.  Her oldest daughter Vera passes the phone to Matty.  It’s Johnny, apologizing for his rude behavior on the parking lot, but Matty tells him to stay out of her life.

Undeterred, a few days later, Johnny rings the doorbell, and offers to fix the dent in the trunk of Matty’s car. Matty’s children are stunned when witnessing the first sparkles between Matty and Johnny, who’s much younger than their mom.

When Matty’s estranged husband Werner (Johan Hildenbergh), who’s an art teacher, gets jealous.  We learn that he left Matty and the family home more than five months ago, but keeps postponing the official divorce.  Never mind that he’s romantically attracted to one of his students, who age-wise could be his daughter.

Meanwhile, Matty agrees to meet Johnny for drinks, saying “just this once.”  And why not: He’s charming and gallant gentleman and she has not been treated that nicely in years.  Before long, the couple ends up in bed together.

Johnny calls her on the phone the next day, on his way to his regular destination in Italy.  He wants to know Matty’s shoe-size, so that he can buy her a pair of elegant shoes. Matty tells him that their adventure was a one-off, and that she doesn’t want him to buy any shoes for her.

Later that week, Werner tells Matty that Johnny has a criminal record, having beaten up his former wife.  Matty is shaken by the news. Werner confides to Matty that he seriously thinks about coming back home. Matty wants to win her husband back and assures him that there is no affair between her and Johnny.  Later, the doorbell rings, and Johnny shows up with a pair of elegant red shoes from Italy.  Will Matty accept them

A dramatic comedy about a woman whose life is full of dents and bruises, Moscow, Belgium is grounded in its particular Flemish locale, though I am told that not many romantic comedies are made there.  Which may explain the commercial success of the picture.


But I think there’s another reason why this film has been winning audiences and festival awards.  It deals with an unusually feisty heroine, who gets a second chance on life, but does so with humor and humanism that are universal.