A Very Belgian Lebowski

click to enlarge Eldorado2_1_.jpg
Eldorado
Directed by Bouli Lanners

Opening as it does — with a non-narrative direct address from a man claiming to be Jesus who’s then interrupted by our overweight, bearded hero dressed hipster-casual and driving an American muscle car blaring classic rock — this Belgian festival favorite immediately evokes The Big Lebowski. The similarities continue when Yvan (director Bouli Lanners) arrives home to discover a break-in, precipitating an awkward stalemate with the thief Elie (Fabrice Adde) hiding under his bed. Thereafter, however, the two cautiously develop a thoroughly un-Coenesque relationship.

Eldorado develops its melancholic portraits slowly and quietly, while cinematographer Jean-Paul De Zaeytijd’s stunning shots punctuate the sparse dialog. As Yvan — a car salesman specializing in vintage American models — drives Elie home, the duo’s experiences gradually help define the edges of a faint friendship and fragments of each man’s history. The stops on their cross-country journey vary from magical realist comedy (after a night spent weathering a rainstorm in an abandoned trailer park, Yvan and Elie are rescued by a nudist named Alain Delon) to Cronenbergian terror (another good Samaritan turns out to be a collector of cars used to kill pedestrians), though the overarching mood is of psychological injury and disappointment.

All this isn’t to say that Eldorado is simply a tragic portrait of its time — although its lone female character, Elie’s mother (Françoise Chichéry), virtually steals the movie in what is easily one of the most tragic scenes in years. It’s a road trip not entirely sure it wants to reach its destination; it’s a film essay on generational relations that doesn’t know which group it belongs with; and it’s an exercise in shock therapy whose moments of intense pain come and go unceremoniously (imagine a less pompous Michael Haneke). Like the classic Howard Hawks western its title references — notice Lanners’ love of Americana — Eldorado is successful because it withholds the moralizing condescension we practically expect from our cinema.

Opens May 1

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