The Misfortunes: Welcome to the Strobbe family
by Vitor Pinto
Last year, a Belgian Francophone film, Eldorado [+see also:
film profile], conquered audiences and swept up prizes in the Cannes sidebar Directors' Fortnight. This year, at least judging from the enthusiastic applause at the end of the screening, another Belgian title, this time Flemish, might very well find a similar destiny: The Misfortunates [+see also:
interview: Felix van Groeningen
film profile] by 31-year-old filmmaker Felix Van Groeningen.
Adapted from a novel by Dimitri Verhulst, The Misfortunates is set in a fictive town somewhere in Flanders. Its protagonist, the 13-year-old Gunther, is the youngest member of the Stobbes, a family composed of one devoted mother (“whose heart is bigger than her pension”) and her four sons (one of who is Gunther’s single father).
The four men devote their lives to one particular pleasure – drinking – and spend most of their time in the local pub. Gunther seems destined for a similar, useless existence but is clever enough to understand that a different, more constructive life is possible.
Jumping between the memories of adolescence and the present – in which Gunther has become a writer and the father of a baby he did not want – the film becomes a tale of escape and optimistic evolution, capturing the difficulties of growing up in an harsh household to then move a away from it. The delicate balance between the inevitability of accepting his family background and the struggle to avoid being bitter about it seems to be Gunther’s mission in life.
The script, written by the director and Christophe Dirickx, captures all these contradictions as well as the character’s inner conflicts but prefers to explore the tragicomic potential of the family rather than simply focus on its negative side. As in a Wes Anderson film, which also centre on dysfunctional families, The Misfortunates has a cynical tone, which allows Groening’s camera to show the harshness of reality but still keep an ironic distance from it.
Swinging between drama and hilarity, the activities of the four uncles are shared by neighbours and locals and lead to unpredictable situations. Van Groeningen strikes the right comic tone in a carnival scene filmed in Aalst: a naked bike ride and the world drinking championship, organised on a railway platform. It is the extreme caricature of a certain side of Flanders and some of its people served to the audiences with an energetic editing.
“I looked for orchestrated chaos – all kinds of things happen simultaneously,” said Van Groeningen. “We filmed with the camera in our hands, very fast. The look is from the 80s but the style is more recent. Not very recent but contemporary”.
Part of the sales line-up of MK2 (which also handles the film’s theatrical distribution in France), The Misfortunates was produced by Ghent-based Menuet and Holland’s IdtV Film, and supported by the Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds, Nederlands Fonds voor de Film and the MEDIA Programme.
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