If there’s one thing the movie-going public is ready, willing, and able to suspend their disbelief toward, it’s a contrived excuse for a filmic road trip—and the less time spent securing the foundation for the excursion the better, since the destination, however expertly foreshadowed, is never anywhere near as aesthetically satisfying as the journey (screenwriters could take more than a few tips from Homer and Joyce in this regard). Bearing that in mind, the sheer incredulity of Eldorado, a Belgian film from 2008 just reaching the United States, is simply an exercise in poor manners, as though writer-director Bouli Lanners means to test the limits of his audience’s good faith. How much expository tripe are you willing to wolf down in exchange for the dubious poetry of relationship drama?
A luckless vintage auto mechanic, Yvan (Lanners) returns home one evening to find his apartment being ransacked by a scraggy junkie , Elie (Fabrice Adde). Rather than notifying the proper authorities or simply kicking the shit out of the kid (though he does rather regretfully trip the intruder down a flight of stairs in self-defense), Yvan agrees to chauffeur the troubled twentysomething to his parents’ flat on the French border after a string of pitifully laconic, expletive-laden conversations. The road trip is, of course, an obligatory guilt trip, made possible by Yvan’s deceased younger brother, whose neglected, heroin-addicted ghost has still not been properly exorcised. Of course, this would be perfectly acceptable, if a bit garden variety as far as indie imports go, were the actual trek in Yvan’s prized Chevy (possibly the tangential inspiration for the title) more than a series of dead-end, oddball confrontations. The most confounding of these involves a kindred spirit gear head who fixes Yvan’s radiator after a breakdown; the episode climaxes with some wide-eyed Dead Zone-esque soothsaying as the travelers’ wrists are gripped portentously by their benefactor.
Despite occasional stabs at humor, Eldorado is a tragedy; most poignantly because in spite of the film’s malodorous editorial flaws, it works as a visceral experience, taunting us with potential that a better script could have seized and actualized. Lanners’s mise-en-scéne is a trifle bombastic at times, but effectively placed edits juxtapose wide shots of the overcast Belgian countryside with tight, in-vehicle close-ups to emphasize the characters’ isolation—as though the duo has been expelled from the rural Eden in their very midst as a punishment for their social atrophy. Likewise, while the leads never develop dramatically as anything beyond formulaic indie loners, their mismatched physiques succeed with visual chemistry: Yvan, beer-bellied and long-haired, resembles the bastard offspring of Slavoj Žižek and Jeff Bridges’s “The Dude” while Elie, nervous, lanky, and strung out, often wears green sweaters that match the ubiquitous grassy hills and accentuate his self-inflicted cipher attitude. One can easily imagine this bewhiskered, bohemian Laurel and Hardy helming a modern classic, but this film, which laughably closes with a moribund canine as a symbol for the protagonist’s flickering faith in humanity, surely isn’t it.