It was Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign-Language Film. Belgium hasn't had too many of those. They had one in 1972 and then a little burst of three around the early 1990s, but otherwise that's it. It's in Dutch, not French, by the way.
I didn't enjoy the first half at all.
Our protagonist (Josse De Pauw) is a pushy father who wants his fat, unenthusiastic daughter (Eva Van Der Gucht) to be a singer. He drags her along to talent shows, where she bludgeons English-language songs and gets awarded ones, twos and threes from the judges. Unsurprisingly she's got low self-esteem and when discussing a beautiful and talented singer (Thekla Reuten), wonders how many men she had to sleep with to be successful. De Pauw doesn't care, though. Hell, he doesn't even notice. He's so blinded by his ambition for her that he's lost touch with reality. "Nobody sees how good our Marva is." He wants her to have a "real life", by which he means being famous and on TV.
Then one day De Pauw accidentally meets the aforementioned Thekla Reuten. As you do, he kidnaps her.
In other words, we're on a train to Knob City. Our hero's a knob. Admittedly he's driven by love for his daughter, but he's catastrophically stupid and in denial of reality. He has a nice best friend (Werner De Smedt), but De Smedt is setting new standards for bone-headed gullibility in the dog escapade. As it happens, he's right. He didn't have to be. Reuten's manager (Victor Low) is delighted that she's been kidnapped, because it's free publicity. I actively didn't want to be watching De Pauw flail around like a toddler with a bee down his shirt.
Occasionally there's some good stuff, which appropriately for the movie's theme is on TV. "It looks like we're dealing with professionals." "He was a real gangster." "It is clear that Debbie won't come out of this unharmed." There are laughs to be had from all the bullshit that's being peddled, both deliberately and by cretins.
Act Three is where the film gets good. Suddenly you'll see how it got Oscar-nominated. As far as I'm concerned, everything that went before is just set-up for the last half-hour or so. These are good people, after all, for instance with De Pauw being so devoted a father that he's willing to stand in plain view of armed police, saying he's got a gun and he'll shoot. That was hilarious. The story takes some heartwarming turns, the finale is powerful and in the end I went away impressed.
I like what it's saying about the nature of fame and television. De Pauw gets called on his delusions and normal life gets defended. Victor Low is certainly a smooth operator who knows the music business, but his gimmicks aren't serving his clients. Reuten looks bland in that blue sparkly wig, but on the road in cycling gear she's beautiful. The movie's all about discovering your true self and being true to your feelings, which an indicator to the depth and complexity of Van Der Gucht's character. That's cool. However at the same time, television is the catalyst of everything that happens in the film. It's what everyone wants, or at least thinks they do. It brings out truth. Oddly enough, this would make it a good (if eccentric) double feature with Chopper. Both films are about people finding unlikely fame and being enthralled by the sight of themselves on television, even if they're idiots and/or criminals.
Your reaction to Act Three (and hence the whole film) will probably depend on how you viewed De Pauw's antics beforehand. If you're not slightly shocked, you'll probably assume from the start that it's all heading for a Hollywood ending and write the film off as bland and toothless. Me, I tasted a good bit of acid. Delusions like De Pauw's are destructive, while there's a lot of bitchiness underneath this showbiz world. If you're coming from that perspective, the finale's charm will feel more honest.
Ludicrously the MPAA rated this film R, as far as I can see because of a single tame nude shot. In contrast, the recommended age to see it in Switzerland is 10 and in Germany 6.
I shouldn't be surprised to like an Oscar-nominated film, although it would have been a shocker had it won. Your reaction to the tone will probably dictate how much you enjoy it. It's also a comedy that for quite a while isn't funny, instead being borderline unpleasant. Counter-intuitively, that's almost why I liked it so much in the end. It's also quite sly in how it's looking at the world of fame and television, so for instance I laughed at the vacuous advertising jingle after we'd been seeing hostage drama. I thought it was impressive... although if the film had cut out after an hour, I'd now be giving it an almighty kicking.