Director: Felix van Groeningen.
Writer: Christophe Dirickx, Dimitri Verhulst and Felix van Groeningen.
The Misfortunates is a Belgium language film from director Felix van Groeningen. The film recently had a showing on DVD September 28th through Evokative Films in Canada, with Neoclassic Films handling US distribution. A real life look at writer Dimitri Verhulst’s early life, The Misfortunates shows the stumbling blocks of lower class life, which involves alcoholism, family dysfunction and poverty. The Strobbe’s, who are the focus of the film, band together through drink, but also through a common bond of love.
The film begins with a young Kleine Strobbe of thirteen living with his alcoholic father, where there are no signs of a mother. Kleine’s mother left the family at an early age and now Kleine is raised by three more family members who love strong drink, his three uncles. Soon there are misadventures involving naked bike rides (seen above), cross-dressing, and late night drinking. Kleine does his best to leave his family for boarding school, in hopes of finding a better, more productive life. His efforts are mostly successful.
This film is important for two reasons; first, the sobering look at alcoholism and its detriment to relationships is necessary and believable. As well, the resiliency Kleine Strobbe shows in overcoming his family troubles is a reflection of the well-crafted writing. A young and old Kleine show two characters in two time periods each of whom are attempting to resolve past family issues: “the adult version of Gunther – [is] still trying to deal with his family issues” (Twitch). As well, the images of a drunken father (Koen de Graeve) with delirium tremens, or DTs for short, is enough to turn most viewers away from alcohol misuse of any kind.
This film is also touching for creating such believable characters, who do their best to struggle in such a poverty stricken town. Four men live with their mother, with only one working and their brotherhood, or camaraderie is what overcomes any feelings of shame or guilt. The poor mother in the household is one of the only family members to work, but even her sole pleasure – a television set is taken by the local repo man. However, even she sees only the best in her four sons.
Covering strong subject matter, The Misfortunates finds humour and a powerful message in the misery that is alcoholism. The Misfortunates has won awards ranging from Best Picture to Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay (from the novel “De Helaasheid der Dingen”), deservedly so. This is also a film that is heart-wrenching and hopeful, because of its real life subject matter. Now on DVD, this film is highly recommended, as long as subtitles are not a bother to your viewing enjoyment.
Plot/story/believability: 9 (based on real events and the reels show this).
Characters/individual characters: 8 (solid acting, interpretation).
Overall: 8.5 out of 10.
A review of the film at Twitch Films:
A The Misfortunates Review
An interview with the director on Twitch Films. Questions involve alcoholism, family dysfunction etc.:
An Interview with Felix van Groeningen
The film at Neoclassic:
The Misfortunates US Homepage