Reviews - Aaltra
Reviewed By John Stakes
Undeterred, and at very short notice, the club came up with a choice of three alternatives to an expectant and substantial audience and, faced with an almost blind selection, they chose……….a “road” movie!
But this was about as far from your standard road film as anything screened at the club over the past 10 years. Usually the protagonists are young, at odds with the world and journey off to escape their past or find themselves and end up either dead or in love or both. The only exception which comes to mind is David Lynch’s “The Straight Story” about a journey across USA by a 73 years old man on a lawnmower. “Aalta” is a 2004 Belgian mono-chromed movie shot on less than a shoestring and
written, directed and starring two middle-aged stand-up comics whose characters possess no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
The two men are neighbours at odds with each other, the one a lay farm worker, the other a disgruntled white collar worker who has lost his job and his interest in his wife and whose only passion is Moto-cross. After catching his wife with another man, our anti-hero takes his rage out on his neighbour, and both end up in hospital without the use of their legs having been felled by a grain hopper. When fit enough to be discharged, each sets out intent on a personal journey, the farm hand to Finland to claim compensation from the hopper’s owner, and the other to Namur to watch a Grand Prix in Moto-cross.
Inevitably their paths not merely cross but become intertwined by their common adversity and mutual dislike which develops into friendship as their bizarre wheelchair adventures are played out. They both take full advantage of any sympathy extended to them and Moto-cross man Ben even steals an electric mobility vehicle which would have raised the hackles of many a Keswick resident.
Their insensitivity towards all who lend support is matched by the indignities they have to suffer so gradually they earn our attention if not our sympathy for their plight. The film turns our expectations as to them gaining some insight as to their unsavoury effect on others completely on its head as they merely exploit their condition and are thus accused of giving worthy paraplegics a bad name. In short they behave exactly as any able-bodied grudge-laden misanthrope.
The monochrome photography (probably chosen solely for financial reasons) in fact well serves the content and style of the film which begins to look like an inspired amateur concoction out of the Candid camera stable. It is often a silent film relying mainly on visual humour. It’s all done in such a deadpan manner that the blackly comic humour and the thorough tastelessness are eventually impossible to resist. The film’s title belongs to the make of hopper and when the owner is found there is quite a clever twist when the limitations of the workforce are revealed.
Delapine and Kervern, the two stand-up comics even got the last laugh as their film managed to win the 2004 London Film Festival no less and went on to receive the audience award at the Transilvania Film Festival which seems unsurprising somehow!
It’s the kind of film which refuses to leave the mind long after the credits have rolled. It makes you laugh and question why at the same time. The afflicted are mocked but there is a complete absence of condescension. Quite a feat for such a superficially distasteful little flick which emerges ultimately as a guilty pleasure.
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