Monday, July 24, 2006
Lucas Belvaux (best known for his trilogy of three years ago, released in English as Trilogy:One, Two, Three etc.) is back with a film set in his native Belgium, entitled La Raison du plus faible (it translates, ungainily, as 'The Reason (or reasoning) of the Weakest'). It's a thriller set in the depressed industrial city of Liège. Two laid-off steel workers plot to steal the safe of their old workplace which is filled with the proceeds from the new owners' asset-stripping. To help them they engage an ex-con, Marc (played by Belvaux himself), recently out of prison, having served time for armed robbery and still reporting to the cops every day, but he soon withdraws as he knows he's dealing with a bunch of amateurs. He ends up getting replaced in the scheme by the mild-mannered unemployed college graduate Patrick, for whom Marc initially got involved so that he could afford to buy his wife a new moped. If this does not sound silly enough, well even worse is the speed with which the three bunglers adopt a criminal élan. It all ends predictably badly, with the lads reverting to type in the last ten minutes like a plucky non-league team caving in in the ninetieth minute of a cup-tie. And then the focus switches, inexplicably to Belvaux's character, and we see him as a romantic criminal hero, of the type you would get in a Popular Front-era film by the likes of Jean Renoir, Marcel Carné or Julien Duvivier. Which is all very well, but it's a change of gear a bit too late in the film, and like the rest of the film, not terribly convincing.
Belvaux does however conjure up some fantastic images of the industrial decay of southern Belgium, particularly in the scenes set in the disused steelworks and the haunting shots of the high-rises where one of the gang lives. The fact that Marc works in the local Jupiler bottling-plant (Jupiler being the biggest-selling beer in Belgium), one of the few staples of the manufacturing base that has not been out-sourced, provides a poignant metaphor for the prospects of the local working class. Like nearby Seraing, which features in all the films by the Dardenne brothers, Liège does not look like a place you would want to live. This film, however, isn't up to the standard of the Dardennes.
I also saw Michael Winterbottom's The Road to Guantanamo, which somehow won him the Best Director award at Berlin this year. Politically it is laudable, if predictable, though it does indulge the Tipton Three a bit by not questioning the nature of the 'help' they had planned to give in Afghanistan. From a dramatic point of view it is slapdash and not always convincing. The film straddles fiction and documentary uncomfortably and I found that too many of the scenes involving US soldiers jarred. I worked on a documentary on the Iraq war, and all US soldiers, even the likeable ones, were meaner and tougher than the actors deployed on this. That said, if it convinces anybody of the blight on the planet that is Camp X-Ray (and Camp Delta) it will have done its work. Anyone doubting that Guantanamo violates the Geneva Conventions might want to read this brief summary.