Tot Altijd – ***

Posted: March 12, 2012 in 2012, Disease of the week, Drama, Flanders, XXX

Nick Balthazar’s previous movie, Ben X, scored well in international film festivals, but totally bored and annoyed the hell out of me. His second movie, Tot Altijd, sounded like it would bore and annoy me even more. It’s the story of the first person in Belgium to legally get euthanized. But, except for the tearjerking finale, I pretty much enjoyed this account of – in my opinion – a very brave person.

It may sound crazy to read the words ‘enjoy’ in a movie that deals with such a heavy topic as euthanasia, but the best thing of this movie is that it’s told with a lot of humor. Okay, the guy dies at the end and it gets very emotional on the big screen, but the reason why half of the audience in the theatre is also crying has much to do with the fact that they had laughed a lot as well. With the main character’s right on, at time cynical one-liners and his goofy relationship with his son. But also with his best friends, who just learn to deal with the possible passing of their best friend by blurting out all kinds of remarks that most people will find inappropriate. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if this movie won’t receive laughter in cinema’s abroad, because the Flemish have a typical sense of humor which leans more towards British comedy with an extra focus on the absurd and politically incorrect. Humor is also very present in two other Flemish disease drama’s: Hasta La Vista and Adem and rightfully, because humor is incredibly important to deal with suffering.  A good thing about 50/50 and The Big C is that the US is now also including humor in their stories about people suffering from some kind of disease!

But, enough about the humor in the movie. It still is a drama and someone dies at the end. Someone who decided himself on which day he would be dying. The 30th of September, 2002. Not so long ago. I found the scene in which he choses that date very confronting. You can be the most fervent advocate for legalizing euthanasia, it does feel strange to see a guy decide when the actual euthanization will take place. Belgium was the second country in the world to pass this law (after The Netherlands) and Mario Verstraete became the symbol for the campaign: a man who was suffering from a very bad type of multiple sclerosis. Another great thing about the movie is that it does show the different views about euthanasia, be it with a bias towards acceptance. But it’s not a political pamphlet. There’s ample of moments where you also hear the concerns of people who oppose of it and who disapprove of it. Let’s put is this way: this movie will NOT change your opinion about the matter. I can’t imagine people who are against euthanasia, will suddenly be more favorable to it after seeing the movie. But they might have enjoyed a very well acted and nicely directed drama.

Koen De Grave is phenomenal as Mario Verstrate, who was a real person in case that is not yet obvious for international readers. Most people know him as the chubby and funny guy next door in several series and movies. The Flemish Matthew Perry, so to say. But here he just blows you away with his performance. His jokes come out very natural, the love he shows seems very sincere, but most impressive are his moments of suffering and frustration. You can feel the pain! Equally excellent is Geert Van Rampelberg, who plays the friend (and house doctor) of the main character. A great lead needs an ever better antagonist and in this case it’s very original as the antagonist is at the same time the side kick. Not easy for Geert to show both aspects, but he does is wonderfully. The rest of the cast plays the part they have to play. Stand-up comedian Iwein Segers brings comedy. Michel van Dousselaere and Viviane de Muynck are convincingly concerned and supportive as the parents. And Felix Maesschalck brings in the charm as the son of Mario, who seems to deal with his fathers upcoming passing in a very mature way.

I’m actually very curious to see what the reactions will be in other parts of the world if it ever gets released or shown there. I can imagine people will totally hate this movie for making euthanasia and suffering & death in general a commonplace in our lives. Everyone will refer to this movie as the one about euthanasia, but I watched it more as a movie about friendship and love (for life).

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