Moscow, Belgium

Moscow, Belgium

2008, NR, 102 min. Directed by Christophe Van Rompaey. Starring Barbara Sarafian, Jurgen Delnaet, Johan Heldenbergh, Anemone Valcke, Sofia Ferri, Julian Borsani, Bob De Moor, Jits Van Belle.

REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., April 10, 2009

Near the start of Moscow, Belgium, 41-year-old office worker and discontented mother of three Matty (Sarafian) describes to a co-worker the emotional pains and inconveniences of middle age as if she were listing off the fatal diseases she’s been diagnosed with. “My husband’s having a midlife crisis,” she says, “my oldest daughter is an adolescent … and my car needs to go to the garage. Life’s a real laugh.” But Matty isn’t out for sympathy. Her husband’s midlife crisis may have manifested itself as an affair with a much younger woman; her oldest daughter’s adolescence may take the form of constant sarcasm and sexual experimentation; and her car may need to go to a garage because it was hit from behind by a grungy truck driver named Johnny (who only adds to the mounting legion of irritations piling up in Matty’s life by tracking her down and falling in love with her) – but Matty is no victim; she’s a self-contained marvel of jaundiced stoicism: too busy for self-pity, too world-weary to be swayed by male petitions of love, and too clever to give in to despair. In an otherwise forgettable movie, Sarafian’s portrait of exasperated middle-aged womanhood is a small revelation. Where most actors look to the grand moments in a script to show off their emotional range, Sarafian begrudgingly gives in to even the urge to smile, much less cry or scream. It’s a remarkable performance from the first scene to the last and an unfamiliar one because we don’t see many women like Matty on the big screen. It’s become a cliché to say that the movies throw women under the bus after they reach a certain age. You only need to look at the tiny group of actresses still getting challenging roles into their 40s, 50s, and 60s to see how disinterested most filmmakers are in the stories of older women. We don’t want our heroines to be fading and grouchy, endlessly put-upon and full of anger. We expect them to be young and sassy, sexually commanding and emotionally vibrant. If they must get older, they should indulge in life-affirming romantic adventures with sexy younger men from foreign countries. They should be prepared to dance or rob a bank or pose naked for a calendar. But Matty is no fading starlet. She’s just a mother surrounded by ridiculous men, an independent force who pines to be dependent on someone worth depending on and then, finding no one up to the task, resigns herself to the cruel realities of age and gets on with her life. And for that reason, Moscow, Belgium feels not only like a movie from another culture but from another world.

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Moscow, Belgium, Christophe Van Rompaey, Barbara Sarafian, Jurgen Delnaet, Johan Heldenbergh, Anemone Valcke, Sofia Ferri, Julian Borsani, Bob De Moor, Jits Van Belle

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