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Nobody can accuse filmmaker Bouil Lanners of being cynical.
If I happened to have the misfortune of walking in on a burglary of my home and didn't have a heart attack right on the spot--I think my next plan of action would most likely be the standard of-- screaming bloody murder, dialing 911 and trying to block out visions of trailers for movies like Funny Games and The Strangers. Needless to say probably the last thing I'd do is sit down and have a Breakfast Club style heart-to-heart all-night with the home invaders.
Yet just like Lanners aspired "to move beyond an image of Belgium as a sad, grey place to something more cheerful" by shooting his second feature film with full color to make Eldorado resemble "the Far West," "Montana" or "an old, worn-out cowboy," the same man realized that walking in on a robbery in progress was for both the two burglars as well as himself, not just terrifying but unforgettable.
"It was an unlikely situation," he described in his directorial statement for the Cannes Film Festival award-winning Director's Fortnight 2008 prized Best European Film now in wide DVD release from Film Movement. And the unlikeliness of it resulted in the experience of spending one long, scared night talking which led to the creation of the idea for this film.
Classifying the work as "true fiction" in which the filmmaker blended together elements of his real life along with "moments of pure invention"--which is apparent right from the start of this heavily absurdist road movie that seems to be distant cousins to the work of Jim Jarmusch and Wim Wenders-- after a bizarre opener, he introduces us to the character he himself portrays in the form of the forty year old Yvan.
Yvan was described first by The Village Voice's Melissa Anderson in April and earlier this month by Walter Addiego in The San Francisco Chronicle in a way that likens Lanners' Yvan to Kevin Smith (hmm, that's one strange leap to make for two critics, Mr. Addiego). Although to go foreign-- Stephen Holden made an intriguing observation in May by uniquely comparing him to a younger Gerard Depardieu in The New York Times.
However, instead of equating him with any sort of pop-culture reference, Lanners' Yvan most importantly seems to give off an air of loneliness about him as soon as he enters the apartment-- picking up a convenient pipe to engage in a strange confrontation with an as yet unseen intruder hiding under the bed.
To call it a stand-off would be incorrect as Yvan waits him out nor a sit-in since one of the two is reclined but nonetheless it's a soulful, slacker, and refreshingly unpredictable introductory meeting between the two men who will become our protagonists for the rest of the roughly eighty minute film.
Realizing that the intruder-- Fabrice Adde's Elie-- is a down on his luck recovering smack addict who claims he was robbing his noisy change jar for fare to visit his parents, Yvan surprises himself by agreeing to drive him all the way there in his '79 Chevrolet that's as old as his passenger is as well.
It's about at this point in traditional cinema where the film would've evolved into the usual formula of the road movie-- you know the type that incorporate the all-important confession at the end of act one, the near death experience, the "we're in this together" adventure, the fight, the establishment of the group as new family-like members etc. but Lanners isn't interested in that at all.
While yes, psychologically much is revealed about the two men considering Yvan's reasons for making the trip and his humanity comes out in a few unexpected ways as well as our always-changing attitudes regarding Elie as well but instead of this happening because of predictable encounters, Lanners uses the most absurd and bizarre techniques imaginable in his film.
Along the way he fills it from the start with a fresh soundtrack that reminded me a bit of European rockabilly infused Joe Strummer tunes before a fittingly haunting and very western score settles in. Likewise Lanners sometimes tricks us into assuming it's all just there for a silly, harmless laugh like an old Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin traveling man movie (except one that's not for the kiddies when they meet a nudist who goes by the name of Alain Delon) and a man who seems like he's genuinely there to help them in a roadside emergency but takes far too much pleasure out of automotive death and destruction.
In fact, at times the movie spins far too out of control for its own good yet somehow-- even when Lanners seemingly gets lost in the details including the spectacle of itself, the beauty of the cinematography and the wondrous music-- he manages to move the car back on course for an ending that packs an emotional wallop. Additionally, it's one that's at once both entirely unexpected to American audiences used to a certain type of ending yet on a basic, human level, it's entirely logical.
A bit uneven and not quite as accessible as mainstream Jarmusch (such as the brilliant Night on Earth or Broken Flowers), nor Wenders' epic Sam Shepard penned road movie Paris, Texas or as highly recommended as some of Film Movement's other recent masterpieces like In Love We Trust, Under the Bombs, and The Pope's Toilet-- overall, Eldorado is still one solid work of mostly effective absurdism disguised character study that will stay with you after it's over.
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