You always laugh but you do nothing, says Pakistani asylum-seeker Nadia gifting a stuffed canary to Tom, “Keep it close to your heart, and it will help you to do.
Cinematically a laugh-out-loud comedy, “Los (“Cut Loose ) nevertheless tackles weighty issues. Jan Verheyen’s entry picked up the Silver Pyramid and won Best Script in the festival’s International Competition.
Identifying the themes of “euthanasia and the impossible love between an Antwerp journalist and a refugee from Pakistan, Verheyen told Daily News Egypt, that the situation “sounds so impossible that I wanted to deal with it with a certain irony and “not as a bleak drama.
“It is almost symbolic, said the director of the choices that the character Tom has to make, “It’s hard to make choices like black and white. I didn’t want to choose between a comedy and drama, so I merged them into one.
Based on an autobiographical novel of the same name, the Belgian film follows the thoughts of a journalist caught between his ideals and a reality that challenges them.
“Supporting something is much easier when it doesn’t concern you, says Tom, who is having a difficult time fighting his grandfather’s case for euthanasia. Now, “letting someone die with dignity, seems like murder.
“Los is chock-full of crisp quotables from the geeky journalist. Many of these occur in conversations with the audience, which Verheyen reveals is a deliberate device to make the audience think what they would do in a similar situation, and to confront the difficulties as the character does.
Even death isn’t spared a joke in this brutally comic movie. Saying goodbye to his grandfather, the self-professed “master of words finds he is woefully inarticulate. “If I don’t see you again, take care.
At another point, his last words to another grandfather committing suicide are, “Should I put the blow tube back in?
These dialogues make a comic comeback in the final moments after the credits of the movie roll, instead of the words, “The End.
The tragedy in this comic film is also a tragedy of humor. Nadia and Tom don’t always share a sense of humor. In fact, Tom has to explain “irony to Nadia. She, in turn, chides Tom for his “intelligent humor. In defense, Tom provides examples like “The Strangers, one of whose jokes is ruthlessly politically incorrect, and makes fun of immigrants who benefit from health insurance.
The divide in the sense of humor was also felt at the press conference following the screening of the movie. Audiences in Egypt did not find the movie as funny as those in Hamburg. Inexplicably, said the director, the audiences in Montreal “were in stitches.
Verheyen guesses that was perhaps because they could see the humor from a distance.
Some Cairo audience members believed the director may not have done careful research since it was unimaginable that a Muslim, Pakistani woman would have an affair with a European man. To which all Verheyen needed to say was that it was based on a true story.
“Obviously that’s why the sex-scene is so subdued, Verheyen said. “I kept it intimate, no nudity, because I did not want the discussion to focus on that.
Another viewer objected to a riot scene, where Tom himself gives in to the “emotion of the moment – in another crisis between his ideals and reality – asking why it was only Arabs who were associated with so much violence.
The viewer that objected was hurt by the grandfather’s name-calling of Arabs, a reminder of the anger felt at the portrayal of Arabs at the screening of the Danish film “Go with Peace Jamil.
Verheyen dealt with the comment with grace and intelligence. “It is not that because you have a character that says a racist thing that it is a racist film, he explained.
“What is dangerous about the world today, said the director “is that everyone is generalizing. There is no room for nuance.
Hence, the main character finds himself in the madness of the continuous polarization of things into black and white, but unable to decide. Talking to the audience in asides, he is able to say he “doesn’t know.
Yet, much of the humor is lost in translation. As Nadia and Tom don’t understand each other, so the audience may not be able to bridge that gap in different senses of humor.
The film is, more than anything, a Flemish one. Interestingly, the jokes needed some translation. In Belgium, “Yves des Met stands for the voice of intellectual opposition to popular media. In the translation offered, we hear a reference to “Michael Moore.
References to Belgian localities are made more identifiable. Tom, who works for a well-known paper in Belgium, in the translation works for Le Monde, a source more accessible to the audience.
It is unwise to deny the multicultural society we inhabit is here to stay, conceded Verheyen answering further to the comment regarding generalizing about Arabs. “But it would be equally naïve to say that the new structure does not create problems.
The story of integration with Nadia and Tom is not a success story. The ending is open-ended, we don’t know if Tom who is trailing Nadia will find her in Paris. In real life, their relationship did not succeed.
“The reason his relationship failed interestingly had nothing to do with religion, but their difference in cultures, in background, said Verheyen.
Also, language is a difficult gap to bridge with someone like Tom, whose “life is words.
“Living together is a difficult process under such circumstances, says Verheyen. The story too asks the question, “How far do you go with integration?
Tom who “always laughs like Nadia points out, in the tradition of Socrates, says “I don’t know, and dares to ask, “What would you do?