My bucket list quest to see every road picture ever made brought me to this dry and dark comedy from 2008, a tale of a vintage car dealer and a junkie trekking across Belgium in a 1979 Caprice Classic station wagon.
No, the car’s not an “Eldorado.” That’s used in the ironic/metaphoric sense by writer-director-star Bouli Lanners. It’s the elusive “destination” his character, Yvan, thinks he’s driving the junkie (Fabrice Adde) to, AFTER he’s caught the guy breaking into the apartment he keeps over his garage and “dealership.”
Yvan is partial to “Yank Tanks,” oversized American gas guzzlers from the era motoring enthusiasts in the U.S. have labeled “Malaise Motors.” He’s just taken delivery of one. No, it’s not “competition ready,” or “prêt pour la compétition,” in his native French (with English subtitles). But he’s sure he can flip it.
Meanwhile, though, he’s got this nuisance junkie he rousted out of his apartment and left by the side of the road. The guy says his name is Elie. He bargained for the right to walk off with Yvan’s piggybank the night before. Denied that, he just wants to get “home,” to his parents’ place “near the French border.”
Along the way, they hit the Stations of the Road Trip Cross. There’s the weird fellow Chevy Caprice owner (Philippe Nahon) who offers, nay INSISTS on helping Yvan fix a busted radiator hose. In that guy’s garage is his “collection,” every car with a single dent. The cars hit and killed somebody.
“I have newspaper clippings, police reports,” he salivates, sensing a sale to a fellow “collector.” As if that’s not weird enough, he insists he can tell a person’s future by touching them. But where this encounter goes next is almost jaw-dropping.
Worried about falling asleep at the wheel? “Attach your hair to the roof (headliner in the car).
A drunk-driving near-accident (driving over an embankment) puts them in the company of nudists, led by an elderly fellow who goes by a fairly famous name. Every guy who deals with his has to look the other way.
It’s all rather daft and quite dark. Lanners, no one will be surprised to learn, has played other “Yvans” and directed other droll dramedies such as “The Giants” and “The First, The Last.”
Here, he’s a gruff and irritated presence, reluctant to trust this oddball he’s decided to take home to Momma. Yvan is stubborn, dogmatic, a bit put off by everything and everyone they run into, or runs into them. But his humanity shines through in little hints of generosity and compassion.
Adde’s Elie is every “user” you’ve ever been used by. But he’s clean enough to let some of his humanity through as well. Meeting his family provides some answers.
It’s not a great picture, and as road comedies go, it turns entirely too grim for most tastes. But “Eldorado” is an engrossing peek at a Belgium that lives, works and “collects” in ways that being a European punchline rarely let on.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, violence, profanity, alcohol abuse
Cast: Bouli Lanners, Fabrice Adde, Philippe Nahon
Credits: Written and directed by Bouli Lanners. A Film Movement Plus release.
Running time: 1:21