Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***½
Ah, family -- what a goldmine of fodder for our future creative life! If only we can get through the trying times of growing up. A sentiment that comes to mind as you view the new Belgian film The Misfortunates, the bleak but often quite funny and sometimes very moving look at a hard-scrabble childhood among a family of wastrels.
How life becomes art (and how and why a young boy grows into his older, not-so-happy self) is given wonderful specificity by director/co-writer (with Christophe Dirickx) Felix Van Groeningen, from the novel by Dimitri Verhulst. We can see with surprising clarity not only how art is created (and expanded upon) from life but also how difficult it is to become something other than the child we were. Older? Yes. Different, better? Not so much.
The Misfortunates is set in a low-end town in the Flanders region of the country, which tends, I suspect, toward Belgian's Dutch character rather than its French. The family at hand is pretty much a disaster, though certainly an interesting one. Our hero, the thirteen-year-old Gunther has a father who's a drunk, uncles who each have their self-made cross to bear, and a grandma who can only be called an enabler. The boy, clearly smart, is not doing well own in school, even with the administration trying, against all odds, to take his side.