Sundance Review: Belgica

Score: D+

Director: Felix van Groeningen

Cast: Stef Aerts, Tom Vermeir, Helen De Vos, Charlotte Vandermeersch

Running Time: 127 Minutes

Rated: NR


The bar scene is made for a special kind of person, someone that isn't attached to anything other than their job, leaving their social life behind. In turn, they manage bars for patrons that want to escape their mundane lives for a more social experience; the irony couldn't be more painful.


“Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans" - John Lennon


In Felix van Groeningen’s Belgica, we get a case of two overly ambitious brothers, Jo (Stef Aerts) and Frank (Tom Vermeir) busy making other plans when they decide to open up a bar in downtown Belgium.


Jo and Frank aren't trained entrepreneurs, but act like they are the kids at the cool table, getting a crash course on everything bar scene. This is what happens when reality meets ambition. To make matters worse, they hire all of their close friends and family to help run the bar. Rule number one: never mix business with pleasure. Rule number two: never mix business with family. Rule number three: don’t get high on your own supply. Looks like Frank, Jo and friends didn’t get that memo. Yikes.


From the onset Jo and Frank act like they are making up for lost time, neglecting their home lives as they spiral into a pit of despair. None of the characters have any real redeeming qualities. Including Jo’s on again off again girlfriend Marieke (Helene De Vos) who doesn’t evolve into anything more than a disturbing piece of arm candy and Frank’s feeble minded wife Isabelle (Charlotte Vandermeersch) who forgives him even after being AWOL for entire months out of the year and witnessing him do copious amounts of drugs, even around their children. News flash, if that’s what he does in front of you; imagine what he does behind your back. I guess that shows you anyone can be father of the year.


There were a few glaring plot holes; the MAJOR one pertains to Frank potential jail time for a reoccurring incident that happens at the bar. You’d think with a runtime of just over two hours, the plot wouldn’t be much of an issue… Belgica breaks all the rules and proves us wrong. Classy.


Believe it or not there were a few bright spots; however they are few and far between. Topping the list would be the music. At times it was lively, sporadic and captivating; a cacophony of sound amidst drug use, despair and adultery. In essence, acting like an established character in the film, commemorating the revolving door of change in bar culture. The cinematography was well done, often setting up real close to the action, capturing the vibe of the night life with vivid and intrusive shots of the seedy characters that inhabit the party scene of club Belgica.


The acting was so all over the place as the actors channeled a kaleidoscope of emotions, from screaming eureka one minute to a feeling of complete despair the next. Throughout the film drugs are being snorted so habitually, it blends in as a daily ritual, a sad vice to say the least. Life is a funny thing. If there was one strong takeaway from Belgica, it's that people are very fragile beings who are ready to self destruct at any given moment as emotions often cloud their logic. In the end, Belgica didn’t captivate enough to recommend it. Sadly, I felt like a designated driver for a party I really wanted to fully experience.


About Matt Kerwin

Matt Kerwin

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