Dir: Felix Van Groeningen (Dagen zonder lief, Steve + Sky)
Cast: Kenneth Vanbaeden, Valentijn Dhaenens, Koen De Graeve, Wouter Hendrickx, Johan Heldenbergh, Bert Haelvoet, Gilda De Bal
Belgium/The Netherlands, 2010
Reason to see: Great praise coming out of TIFF'09 & has an awesome quirky tone written all over it
The Misfortunates is a exceptional film that presents us with a compelling family drama with heart & heartbreak combined in a heart beat. Centred on 13 year old Gunther who lives in his grandmothers house along with his boozing father and 3 uncles, where everyday life is so unbelievable with shenanigans that you know this fiction must be laced with truth. And it is, as the film is an adaptation of the novel by Dimitri Verhulst De helaasheid der dingen (literal translation The Shittiness of Things), which was inspired by the author’s childhood experiences. That literal translation of the title speaks volumes to the tone of the film. It doesn't pull any punches when presents the craziness of Gunther's home life, but it's this honesty that makes the film refreshing. It's also very honest about not just the bad but the good as well, as there are benefits to living in zaniness.
That's what makes The Misfortunates so endearing, is it feels true every step of the way. The moments that are awful, are truly awful but when it's good there if a joie de vivre that permeates through the screen and into the heart of the viewer. You want to stay in these lively moments, but the volatile nature of the band of four brothers that is Gunther's father & uncles inevitably break up the fun, and they are a force that you don't want to reckon with. Shifting easily from tone to tone, somehow it balances the outrageousness naked bicycle riding with the colourful interactions to day-to-day life. This creates an environment were we come to believe anything can and will happen. It's an amazing study of the complexity of family, loyalty and dedication while laced beautifully with comedy and tragedy.
The film comes alive with the stellar ensemble cast from the openness of 13 year old Gunther played by Kenneth Vanbaeden to Koen De Graeve who plays his alcoholic father Celle, to the charismatic performance from Johan Heldenbergh as Beefcake. Gilda De Bal is also exception as the matriarch of the Strobbe family, oddly placed in a male-dominated testosterone-filled household where the four brothers reign their world in a bizarre combination of enthusiasm and anarchy.
Quirky, honest and tragic The Misfortunates shows us emotional truths be they gritty or tender. It's an astonishing film that I highly recommend.
DVD Language options:
- Audio: Original Flemish or French
- Subtitles: English or French
- Extensive Making-Of (6 parts, 43 minutes) French subtitles
- Interview with director Felix Van Groeningen (13 minutes) in French
- Booklet: The packaging includes a booklet with an director's note from Felix Van Groeningen and a foreword by Colin Geddes and Katarina Gligorijevic (Toronto based film curators, producers & writers). The director's note and foreword are in both in French and English
- Trailer (English subtitles)
Shannon's Overall View:
I loved it
I'll watch it again
I highly recommend
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© Shannon Ridler, 2010
Originally reviewed for Theatrical Release - April 8, 2010