Sunday, February 13, 2011

De helaasheid der dingen (The Misfortunates, 2009)

Poster art for The Misfortunates. (Source)
De helaasheid der dingen (released internationally as The Misfortunates) is a Flemish film directed by Felix Van Groeningen. It is based on an autobiographical novel by poet and writer Dimitri Verhulst.

It tells the story of Gunther Strobbe, a writer who looks back on his teenage days in a bleak little town somewhere in East Flanders. 13-year-old Gunther lives in his grandmother's house with his alcoholic father and three uncles. The days consist mostly of drinking, smoking, fighting and the singing of rude songs. Gunther struggles to find happiness amidst this depravity.

The film takes you right into the world of the troubled Strobbes and their twisted antics. There is the annual naked bicycle race, the village's collective attempt to set a new world record of beer drinking, and a board game version of the Tour de France where drinking different alcoholic beverages lets you progress in the game.

These scenes could have been outright amusing in a different context, but against the background of Gunther's story they appear more tragic than funny. The comparison to Trainspotting in this article is relevant, but while that film at times manages to keep the darkness at bay, De helaasheid der dingen climbs into the toilet bowl and stays there for the full 108 minutes. Nothing is safe in this film, not even the innocence of a 12-year-old girl (don't miss her drunken rendition of "The Plum Song").

Gunter eventually beings to write, and his father goes into rehab. This should be a good thing, but I was only waiting for everything to go to hell again. This is the kind of film that takes happy endings and kicks them in the balls. As Gunther, 27, looks back on his earlier life, it is clear that his current happiness and success has come in the wake of a string of misfortune and loss for both him and his family.

De helaasheid der dingen is an extremely well-made film. It grabs you and makes you watch it all the way through. Whether this is because the subject matter has many of the qualities of a train wreck, I cannot say. But I can tell you this: I always enjoy a film that is more intelligent than its characters. And in this case that gap is about as wide as the Pacific Ocean.


  1. haha lol the trailer sums it up pretty well ^^

    Good post baby, well written! All your posts should really come together into a big book about Belgium sometime :D

  2. Thanks! :) I think that would be a pretty scary book, though.