Moscow, Belgium

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Cannes, Critics Week

CANNES -- When care-worn Matty backs her battered family car into Johnny's truck in Christophe Van Rompaey's highly enjoyable romantic comedy "Moscow, Belgium," triggering a torrential exchange of inventive abuse, you just know they were made for each other. The story of how they bridge their differences is one that should appeal to audiences of broadly varying tastes in Europe and to arthouse moviegoers around the world.

The scale of these differences is formidable. For one thing, Matty (Barbara Sarafian) is 43,with fading looks, while Johnny (Jurgen Delnaet), a rugged 29, would be a catch for women half Matty's age. For another, she's just been dumped by Werner (Johan Heldenbergh), her art-teacher husband, and is hoping against hope that he'll return. Last but not least,there's the issue of class (not for nothing is the action set in a suburb of Ghent called Moscow): Matty and Werner are middle-class,albeit at the lower end of the scale, while Johnny is irredeemably proletarian in outlook.

Van Rompaey paints a warm and often witty picture of workaday life in modern (Flemish-speaking) Belgium.He has a keen eye for social detail, from Matty's edgy sparring with the street-wise Vera (Anemone Valcke), aged 16 and the eldest of her three children, to the grotesquely kitschy, out-of-key karaoke number with which Johnny serenades Matty in an attempts to patch up their latest spat. His portrayal of working-class life as it is lived in Belgium, and by implication much of northwestern Europe, is unsentimental and uncondescending and largely rings true.

When Werner, having had a row with his student paramour, decides finally to return to Matty, she is faced with a choice. But Van Rompaey generally applies a light touch and keeps the outcome (more or less) uncertain to the end. Sarafian's sympathetic portrayal of a woman facing a mid-life crisis and unable quite to believe that she has been given a second chance sustains this engaging movie, as do Ruben Impens' cinematography -- much of it shot at night -- and the rich accordion score.

Cast: Barbara Safarian, Jurgen Delnaet, Johan Heldenbergh, Anemone Valcke, Sofia Ferri, Julian Borsani. Director: Christophe Van Rompaey. Screenwriters: Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem, Pat van Biers.

No rating, 102 minutes.

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