Waffles and Chocolates Do Not A Culture Make.
Frank Van Mechelen
A question I am often asked, in my capacity as film reviewer and all-around genius, is why international films are so much better than American films. OK, no one every actually asks me that. On an average day, I generally field questions as to where the ADL can send the mail bombs and endless queries as to where I get off. The answer to the first question is my Antarctic fortress of solitude, and to the second is in tiny glass vials, which I keep in an industrial freezer for use in my upcoming “eugenically modified food” terrorist campaign. But, people should ask that question, because the general impression, even among the type of people who argue over the ending to Alien Vs. Predator, is that foreign films are superior to home grown product. This is, however, not the case. Foreign films generally stink just as pungently as American films, although in different ways. American films usually stink of motor oil and layered-on cologne, and sometimes of deep fried chicken, depending on the genre, whereas films from other countries have their own distinctive odours. French films, of course, smell like sweat and ripened cheese, and if it’s after 11 am, red wine and vomit. German films smell like infected canker sores caused by internalized rage, and African films, though rare, are possessed of the clear scent of dirt and gunpowder mixed with cocaine. Asian films, depending on the sub-genre, can have different odours. Some of the stately Kurosawa films or Ozu movies are completely scentless, though anything from mid-period Seijun Suzuki smells like steamed rice. Modern period Asian action films smell like slow-motion dove shit, and Takeshi Miike films stink like unwashed high school drop out. The reason most people are under the impression that international films are better than Hollywood fare is that a foreign film has to be either really good or really bad to make it over the ocean to North America. The really good films make it because members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science need to make it seem like the Oscars aren’t one big hand-job to American producers they’re trying to sell a script to, and the bad ones, usually Asian horror films, are released so as to keep the backwards baseball cap patrol from mingling with civilized people when there isn’t a Vin Diesel movie in theatres.
Luckily for me, The Intruder is one of the better films to make the leap over the Atlantic to North America, a land where the ignorant mingle with the pretentious to create an atmosphere ripe for international film festivals. The film is Belgian, which means there was a slight chance Jean-Claude Van Damme might show up looking for some SAG scale money to buy drugs, but instead features a talented cast of people whose names I can’t pronounce because they’re Flemish. Along with French, Flemish is the official language of Belgium, though since it just sounds like someone with Down’s syndrome trying to speak Dutch I’m not sure how it qualifies as its own language. One of the unpronounceable actors plays a father who’s daughter disappears and is later found dead, an apparent suicide at the age of 10. The father becomes obsessed with her whereabouts during her final days, and investigates using techniques probably pioneered by watching the American remake of The Vanishing a few dozen times a week. His investigations bring him to a small town in Belgium’s countryside, where a young runaway claims to have seen his daughter while she was alive.
The film moves slowly, but that’s OK. Sometimes, it’s nice to find a film that wasn’t edited by someone clearly watching Total Request Live at the same time. This style can generally be found in older Western European films, and much of Canada’s output, because they don’t have TV there and have to entertain themselves by listening to hockey on the radio and staring at the aurora borealis until they lose peripheral vision. And while the film takes many of its cues from the aforementioned Vanishing, the slow pace has a sort of hypnotic effect that causes you to lose track of space, time, and memory. This approach, much like a Proust novel, or a child psychologist hurriedly using regressive memory techniques to try and make you forget he just spent half of your one-hour session fondling your no-place instead of helping you cope with your parents’ divorce, numbs the films essential unoriginality. I felt like I needed a more ambiguous ending to the mystery of the dead daughter, however, instead of tying things up in a nice little bow, or, more accurately, a complicated and trying double sheel bend that requires a five minute explanation from Jessica Fletcher to make any sense. And quite frankly, I’m not going to listen to her, because she smells of mint tea and denture adhesive, a scent I generally associate with British, not Belgian movies. And for the record, Belgian films smell like truffles, which, for the uninitiated, is shit mixed with gasoline.