“Aaltra” – A.J. Hakari

After viewing the quirky Belgian comedy Aaltra, I thanked my lucky stars that this film wasn’t made in America. Had it gotten into Hollywood’s hands, this premise would have been transformed into an unholy companion piece to The Bucket List, a veritable festival of schmaltz whose attempts to be edgier than other members of the feel-good pack would cause it to come across even more awkwardly. But bow down in worship to the deity of your choice that Aaltra is as deftly-executed a film as it is, one that takes a risky story and delicately molds it into one of the funkiest takes on the “road trip” movie you’ll ever see.

The film’s writing/directing pair of Benoit Delépine and Gustave K/vern also star as, respectively, a well-to-do businessman and a slacker farmhand. These two are neighbors who are pretty much constantly at one another’s throats, a rivalry that culminates in a fight on the latter’s tractor that ends with both of them in the hospital, both paralyzed from the waist down. Embittered but not quite down for the count, the men form an uneasy alliance as they accompany one another on the road to their own personal journies. For the businessman, all alone after catching his wife with another man, a trip to some motocross racing grounds to indulge in his favorite hobby one more time is all he really wants. But for the farmhand, and eventually for his partner as well, his mind is set on hauling his wheelchair-bound heinder to Finland, determined to track down the makers of the faulty tractor that caused their shared accident and get some well-deserved retribution once and for all.

The best way to describe Aaltra is that it resembles the Belgian love child of Jim Jarmusch and the Farrelly Brothers. The film’s overall sense of humor is comprised of bawdy moments you’d find in films by the latter, only they’re depicted in the very quiet, deadpan style of the former. As questionable as that combination sounds, it works magnificently, because not for a moment do Delépine and K/vern allow themselves to become slaves to genre convention. You might think that over the course of Aaltra, these two bickering men learn to become better people, to settle their differences and learn a life-affirming lesson in a tidy, 90-minute package. If anything, their disability inspires the guys to quite frankly become even bigger douchebags than they were before, their journey on the road punctuated by moments of out-and-out thievery and taking swift advantage of any hospitality offered to them. If Aaltra has a message in store for its viewers, it’s that disabled individuals aren’t always instantly deserving of pity because of their condition, that they’re perfectly capable of being as big of jerks as those with the ability to walk.

As flat-out immoral as that idea sounds, Delépine and K/vern succeed in creating a strikingly realistic and often uncomfortably funny picture based upon it. The comedy comes not from standing back and poking fun at the main characters’ disability but by surveying the karmic curveballs they’re served over the course of the running time. For every time they swipe a little old lady’s electric scooter or try to make off with a motocross star’s expensive bike, fate deals them an equal hand by leaving them stranded on a beach in the middle of high tide or quite simply being left alone at the side of the road. Life has a tendency to suck no matter who you are, a reasonable lesson that Delépine and K/vern have managed to parlay into an often laugh-out-loud hilarious comedy that allows its laughs to flow naturally instead of forcing them or tactlessly announcing their impending arrival minutes in advance. This isn’t to say that the film doesn’t occasionally meander or take its sweet time trying to regain its bearings after abandoning them for a little side quest, but more often than not, the low-key antics of Delépine and K/vern will leave you wondering what happens to them next.

By no means is Aaltra the type of picture you can just pop on down and pick up at the nearest Blockbuster, let alone any big-name video store chain. That’s unfortunate considering how great is actually is, but if you’re willing to take the time to seek out Aaltra online, you’re in for one of the most laid-back, yet diabolically funny moviegoing experiences you’ll ever have.

Rating: ★★★½

-A.J. Hakari

One Response to ““Aaltra” – A.J. Hakari”

  1. Papa Larry H Says:

    Very interesting review. I am definitely going to check this film out. The majority of foreign films I have seen were Japanese. And the majority of those were just plain bad. I admit I have never seen a Belgian film before. Your review has piqued my curiosity. I’ll let you know what I think of it. Papa Larry H

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