The aspirations of this quirky Belgian import might be feel-good indie, but the copious flaws smack of pure Hollywood drivel. It’s the sort of story a second-rate film student would scribble in 20 minutes after catching Mississippi Masala on late-night cable: Matty (Barbara Sarafian), a fortysomething, soon-to-be-divorced mother of three backs her sedan into a camion in a grocery store parking lot and gradually develops (after unloading an obligatory string of vitriolic man-hate) a mutual attraction with the 30-year-old driver, Johnny (Jurgen Delnaet). Of course, independent near-masterpieces have been forged with even less attractive raw material, but the triteness of Moscow, Belgium seeps through from macro to micro, leaving no detail untouched.
Aside from the centerpiece May-December romance—which, to its disrespectful detriment, never pays homage to the nimble complexity of Douglas Sirk—there’s a pre-teenaged boy who badly needs to be coaxed from his shell, a surprise visitation from an adolescent daughter’s lesbian lover, and a chauvinistic showdown pitting Matty’s philandering art-teacher husband (Johan Heldenbergh) against the noble savagery of the recovering-alcoholic truck driver. It’s a scrappy playbook of over-exposed character types and reversals, with platitude-driven dialog that seems penned by an inarticulate eighth grader: “Everything around you is one big blind spot!,” “You are wise in the way that the owl is wise,” and so forth.
One conspicuously repeated word throughout the film’s third act is “real,” with each utterance an attempt to confront a rare moment of emotional truth with profundity. But these obviously reflexive reminders are mere reaction formation. Just as the protagonist of Robert Altman’s cinema verité/political project Tanner ‘88 satirically sloganized the phrase “For Real,” it’s by now a rule of thumb that proclamations of authenticity need only come from the most ostentatiously superficial. After the hackneyed avalanche of plot turns in Moscow, Belgium, the only noticeable artifact of verisimilitude is in lead actress Sarafian’s tired visage. The absence of makeup allows her to sadly leverage the lines of middle-aged martyrdom scoring her cheeks; her maternally exhausted face looks spookily hollowed-out, even as her character discovers a two-dimensional lover’s bliss. She deserves better than a tawdry collection of rote romantic stereotypes and shaky, blanched cinematography that would be more appropriate in a dour polemic about the suffering pan-European proletariat.