Dir/scr. Bouli Lanners. Belgium/France. 2008. 86 mins.
A dysfunctional Belgian pair of Laurel and Hardy loners bond affectingly in Eldorado, Bouli Lanners' second directorial outing which picked up the Europa Cinemas Label and the FIPRESCI Quinzaine award at this year's Cannes festival.
Visually striking and musically inventive, Eldorado doses out its deadpan comedy without suffocating the poignant rapport between choleric vintage car dealer Yvan (played by the director) and fragile junkie drifter Elie (Fabrice Adde).
Apart from a brief lull two-thirds of the way in, Eldorado keeps a tight grip on its audience, and is sure to surpass the modest arthouse outreach of Lanners' similarly bittersweet debut Ultranova. But this is still a limited-release film for the Kaurismaki crowd and the Jarmusch brigade and will need critical support and possibly further festival play to build an audience outside of the co-production territories of Belgium and France, where it opened June 25.
Returning home one night, irascible car-obsessed loner Yvan finds a robber hiding under his bed - who turns out to be lanky, spaced-out Elie. This opening scene - pared-back situational slapstick, filmed laconically from the other end of the room - sets the tone for the whole film, which reproduces the silent comedy couple of the repressed angry fat man and the dim but touchingly-unworldly thin man without ever turning into a slavish Laurel and Hardy homage.
Despite their unpromising start, a wary bond is formed between the two, and on an impulse, Yvan agrees to drive Elie to his parent's house near the French border. And thus begins a roadtrip that takes in some hilarious odd characters - an elderly camper-van nudist who calls himself Alain Delon, a rural spirit-medium who collects cars that have killed people.
But it's the rapport between Elie and Yvan that powers Eldorado: the gruff thawing of actor-director Lanners' character towards his utterly dependent, truth-avoiding young charge plays out the eternal drama of people-can-change hope and people-don't-change disillusionment. And just when the whimsy is getting a little too directionless, the key scene of the odd couples' arrival chez Elie's parents kicks in with some much-needed emotion, and just the right dose of backstory revelation.
Jean-Paul de Zaeytijd's widescreen photography, with its slightly metallic colour hues, and the careful choice of locations (flat unpeopled farmscapes, shabby roadside diners) projects us into a space that seems at a disconnect. The equally-destabilising soundtrack - sparingly used, but janglingly invasive when it comes - mixes influences that range from Ennio Morricone to Ry Cooder to Portishead.
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