Moskow, Belgium

Moskow, Belgium is the kind of film that appeals to both the hopeless romantics and the sarcastic cynics. Matty (Barbara Sarafian) is a worn down middle-aged mother whose professor husband (Johan Hildenbergh) has taken a leave of absence from their marriage. While he is busy in bed with his much younger student, Matty is working at the post office, raising their three kids and not getting any younger. But when she has a mild fender-bender with 29 year-old Johnny (Jurgen Delnaet), an ex-alcoholic truck driver, things change. Johnny is instantly taken with her unkempt beauty and begins an unwavering courtship that changes both of them. Matty, who refuses to take any crap, challenges Johnny in all the areas that matter, and likewise, Johnny brings the attention and recognition that Matty has been craving. The unlikely pair fill the gaps in one another’s lives and one can’t help but want happiness for such broken individuals.

Director Christophe van Rompaey addresses hefty issues in what is, more or less, a comedy. The morality of infidelity is on display in all its shades of grey. Matty is still married to her cheating husband and feels very much committed to that relationship, but Johnny’s wooing has sparked her repressed desires for intimacy. Johnny brings his own baggage from a previous marriage, and although his self-assurance is captivating, at first he doesn’t seem altogether trustworthy. Meanwhile, the cheating husband is having second thoughts about his mistress. It is all so relationally complicated, and yet terribly simple; everyone is following their own desires. Unapologetically selfish, everyone is on a path towards their own happiness without considering the costs for those around them. Only Matty, with her thriving maternal instinct, shows any shred of restraint – but not much.

“It was nothing. Nothing. I mean, it was just . . . I’ve never done anything like that with a guy before. You know, a one-night-stand. Don’t follow my example. It was just the once. Just the once.”

A gleeful Matty speaks these words to her precocious teenage daughter after being caught with her boyfriend like a teenager herself. The smile on her face says more than her jumbled defenses. Her romance with Johnny has sparked a youthful excitement within her, and she can’t help but grin. It is easy to be taken with Johnny and his reckless emotions, because although his life has a trail of errors, he is clear about his intentions with Matty.

Barbara Sarafian taps into the essence of a character like Matty, the conflict between her mother self and her other self. She is a woman who has seen her youthful glow come and go, and is now witnessing the sexual maturation of her own children. While that seems like a natural flow of events, the rejection from her husband upsets the balance of Matty’s identity. She is left wondering if she has lost her sexual worth and attractiveness. Sarafian captures that mix of confidence that comes with motherhood and the fragility of wanting to be desired. It is an emotional conundrum that many modern women face, and it is what gives the film a wider appeal.

As someone who prefers a story about perseverance and the fulfillment of promises, Moskow, Belgium surprised me with its unusual portrayal of infidelity and the human desire for intimacy. The viewer is caught wanting happiness for the characters and hoping that this quirky love affair might take off. The film portrays the contemporary problem of divorce with insight and humor, never belittling or simplifying the significance of a broken marriage for everyone involved.

Moskow, Belgium (Aanrijding In Moscou) (Belgium)
Director: Christophe van Rompaey
Producer: Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem
Writers: Jean-Claude van Rijkeghem, Pat van Beirs
Language: Flemish
Starring: Barbara Sarafian, Jurgen Delnaet, Johan Hildenbergh, Anemone Valcke, Sofia Ferri, Julian Borsani.