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Belgian musician Tom Barman's feature debut is a multi-grained slice of Antwerp life set over 36 hours
In 1999, the year that saw the release of PT Anderson's Magnolia, Tom Barman decided to take time out from fronting the Belgian rock band dEUS in order to write the screenplay for his feature debut. The timing is hardly a coincidence, for with its multiple characters, crisscrossing storylines, fateful confluences and occasional bursts of the irrational, all choreographed to a closely integrated score, Any Way The Wind Blows owes a considerable debt to Anderson's film, and acknowledges that debt by including JJ Cale's 'Magnolia' in the eclectic mix of songs that makes up its soundtrack.
What makes Any Way The Wind Blows stand out from Magnolia and other slice-of-life films (13 Conversations About One Thing, Crash, Me And You And Everyone We Know, Look Both Ways) is its breezy energy, as well as a refreshing refusal on Barman's part to bring his characters' crises to anything like a neat resolution.
Here a motley ensemble is shown constantly on the move, emerging from barely glimpsed pasts to unite at a carnivalesque party, before heading off into darkly hinted futures - and viewers are left none the wiser as to whether they have witnessed a messianic miracle, the end of the world, or just another ordinary day in Belgium.
Antwerp, a Friday in June. After being hit full in the face by an errant frisbee, single father Walter (Vercruyssen) loses his beloved projectionist's job under suspicious circumstances, while his restless ex Lara (De Belder) flirts with everybody and dreams of settling into responsibility. Stuffy middle-aged novelist-cum-teacher Paul (Kloeck) feels as though his life ended long ago. Irascible, 1980s-obsessed billposter Frédérique (Boel) and his loose-bowelled sidekick Felix (De Voogdt) half jokingly plan an anarchist raid on a police building's canteen.
Meanwhile cynical, womanising gallery owner Firmin (Roofthooft) gets nostalgic about a past love and is haunted by the ghost of Andy Warhol. Chouki (Schoenaerts) plans to make a bold artistic statement using a bacteria sample pilfered from the Institute for Tropical Medicine, while his disheartened sister Natalie (Broods) frets about her relationship with Walter and prepares for a party that evening to which everyone will come - even the mysterious Windman (Louwyck), who has just blown into town with an unusual power and a need to dance.
Mixing Dutch with French and English, professional with non-professional actors, jazz with techno, the young with the not-so-young, philosophy and art criticism with drugs and delinquency, naturalism with surrealism, and light comedy with apocalyptic tragedy, Any Way The Wind Blows defies easy categorisation.
Sprawling, episodic, and just the right side of pretentious, it makes up for its bold lack of conventional narrative (let alone conclusion) with a string of finely observed, vaguely interconnected vignettes that all add up to something as fugitive and phantasmagorical as life itself, in all its loves, fears and dreams.
Performed with conviction and directed with verve, Any Way The Wind Blows rates as one of the most mature and ambitious debuts in years, wafting in a great new talent for Belgium's cinema scene.
Barman's vital ode to Antwerp offers not so much a slice of life as the whole loaf, cut thin but sharp.
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