Charming comedies about unlikely romances ship out of Hollywood like genetically modified soybeans, so it seems a little unnecessary to import them here, as well. Besides, the joys—sincere or sarcastic—that domestic rom-coms offer are largely based on a kind of fantasy celebrity matchmaking, a process of biochemical hybridization in which you pair, say, a Reese with a Vince, or a Hugh with a whoever. The challenge of importing a foreign romantic comedy is thus twofold: first, it has to compete with the appeal of the American star system; and second, it has to justify its genre-mandated frivolity in a corner of the market (“world cinema”) usually reserved for much more dour films.
Moscow, Belgium, a fleet-footed May-December comedy that won hearts at Cannes Critics’ Week and the European Film Awards, may seem unnecessary (but then again, Belgium has defied the odds before — this is the country that gave us Jean-Claude Van Damme when we least needed another hero). The film has no name-stars (Barbara Sarafian’s only big credit is Peter Greenaway’s 8 1/2 Women), a no name-director (most of director Christophe Van Rompaey’s prior credits are in Belgian TV), and a decidedly un-picturesque setting in the titular working-class Ghent neighborhood. But, damn it, the film is charming—and most likely this is due to its very lack of these and other qualities most commonly associated with Hollywood’s iterations of the genre.
Click here to read the rest of Leo Goldsmith’s review of Moscow, Belgium.