Inspired by a real-life incident experienced by director and star Bouli Lanners, Eldorado begins with a man named Yvan (Lanners) coming home from work, only to find a broken window and all of the lights on. Armed with a baseball bat, he creeps into his house to find the burglar still inside hiding under his bed. Yvan attempts to pull him out, but the man is wedged under the bed good, and a small stand-off ensues. Yvan is more than happy to let the guy go as long as he doesn’t take anything, but the plea falls on deaf ears, the man not trusting him. Exhausted, Yvan dozes off, which gives the man an opening to escape. He makes a little noise though, which rouses Yvan, who launches the baseball bat down the steps towards him, tripping him up.
Oddly enough, Yvan takes the kid back inside and finds himself drawn to him. He finds out the kid’s name is Elie, and while he may look like a junkie, he’s actually attempting to kick the habit and was only looking for some money to hitch a ride back home to his parent’s house. This strikes a chord with Yvan, as his brother recently died thanks to an overdose. Yvan decides the least he can do is give Elie a bit of cash and take him to a bus stop, which he does the next day on his way to work. That’s not the end of their time together however, as on his way back he finds Elie still standing at the stop, claiming no buses ever come by there anymore. Now stuck with the kid and looking at him like the brother he lost, he decides to drive him home himself, which will prove to be an unexpected adventure.
In many ways, Eldorado reminded me of an early Coen brothers effort; you know, before they went award fishing with No Country for Old Men. The rural landscapes, quirky characters, dark humor and an underlying sense of heart and self-discovery all really harkens back to the brothers more creatively prosperous days. Fans of those films will certainly find a lot to enjoy here, even in areas you wouldn’t expect. Regardless of the fact that this is a French film, its influence in American countryside nostalgia is evident, from the beat-up classic Chevy Eldorado that the duo is traveling in to the little nooks-and-crannies they find themselves in, such as an abandoned trailer park. If not for the language being spoken, you’d be hard pressed to think this was taking place anywhere other than somewhere on the back-roads of America.
While Yvan and Elie’s journey across Belgium and the dynamic of their relationship is interesting in itself, the real hook (for me at least) is to see what whacked-out, eccentric character they’ll run into next. The first to really stand out is a man only known as “The Collector”, played by the prolific Philippe Nahon (Haute Tension, I Stand Alone, MR 73). While he seems like a nice enough man, he has an odd predilection towards collecting cars that have been involved in homicidal hit-and-runs, as well as believing he’s clairvoyant, which we learn later he may very well be. The most random of all characters shows up after the traveling pair is involved in an accident and they’re forced to spend the night in an abandoned trailer park. Come the next day, they encounter a man willing to help them not only fix their car but also show them the easiest route to their destination; just so happens he’s stark-ass naked. And named Alain Delon; he even sits in a folding chair with Alain Delon’s name emblazoned on the back. Word is that Bouli Lanners worked with the real Delon on the latest Asterix film, and Delon was so difficult on set (c’mon, he’s allowed! He’s only like the coolest dude EVER) that Lanners stole his chair and worked it into the film.
Lanners does a great job pulling double (triple really, since he wrote the film too) duty as star and director. He never seem like he’s performing one aspect better than the other, and looks absolutely determined to be the best at both. Along with his usual cinematographer Jean-Paul de Zaetijd, they manage to film the rural locales of Belgium with a sharp eye, and capture a naturalistic tone that really looks great, especially with the choice to shoot in cinemascope. The look of the film has a very pleasing panoramic sort of feel. Performances are solid all around, and the script is well done. Those accustomed to Hollywood style endings will likely feel a bit empty by the film’s conclusion, but it really is a perfect end to a story that refuses to be unrealistic (but just a tad bit quirky).
Lanners should be commended for making a film in a vein that is often manipulative and overly-sentimental yet effectively figuring out how to avoid all of those pitfalls. While certainly not for everyone (and feeling very much like a one-off experience), those that find themselves drawn to quaint, peculiar character studies that are a little left of center, Eldorado is well worth your time.
Film Movement, which is a modern-day “video of the month” club for independent films, haa released Eldorado recently to the general public (it was out a few months earlier to club members). The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and while it looks good for the most part, unfortunately is interlaced and has a low bitrate. The release is on a single-layer DVD, and the film itself only takes up 3.29GB worth of space. Even at 81 minutes, that’s a little on the skimpy side. Upconverted, it doesn’t look so bad, but there are definitely instances of visible artifacts, combing and aliasing. Audio is available in Dolby Digital 2.0 only and sounds solid. It would have been nice to have a surround track for such a new film, but the standard stereo is serviceable.
On the extras front, we actually don’t get anything specific to the film outside of the film’s original trailer, a text bio on Bouli Lanners, and some liner notes on the reverse side of the DVD sleeve from Film Movement and Lanners. Film Movement has a practice where they include an unrelated short film with each of their releases, and here we get Icebergs. It tells the story about two teens, one of which has her cell phone stolen and thinks she knows who did so, so she goes to confront him. I’m not a huge fan of shorts like this, as you can rarely get emotionally involved in such a short period of time, and as such I’ll just say its fine for what it is (although the slang is horrid!) There’s also a quick promotional short from Stella Artois, the Belgian brewery that sponsors Film Movement, and a few trailers for other releases.
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