Everybody's Famous!

2000, Movie, R, 99 mins


A Flemish fable with elements — and mustaches — you won't find in most American movies. Teenager Marva Vereecken (Eva van der Gucht) glumly sings at local Europop contests because her dad, Jean (Josse De Pauw), thinks she could be a star. (In Belgium, the name "Marva" evidently carries the weight "Janis" would here.) And while the overweight, homely and resentful Marva does indeed shine when singing for fun at children's puppet shows, she's no Debbie (Thekla Reuten), the single-named star of music and tabloids. Debbie, meanwhile, is dominated by media-mogul Michael (Victor Löw), and would like nothing better than to be a grease monkey. Shortly after Jean and his young buddy Willy (Werner De Smedt) lose their factory jobs, Jean's car breaks down, and Jean — who's just picked up the sleeping pills he takes for his insomnia — looks as though he's about to follow suit. Just then a young bicyclist offers to look under the hood: Jean recognizes her — it's Debbie — and in a burst of desperate inspiration slips her some tea doctored with the pills. Jean takes the knocked-out knockout to a remote cabin, leaves Willy to keep an eye on her (which turns out to be like leaving a chicken to guard the fox's den) and presents Michael with his ransom demand. Jean wants Michael to produce one of his songs and have Marva sing it on TV. Realizing that he's not dealing with a criminal mastermind, Michael agrees, then whips the media into a frenzy that sends Debbie's new single skyrocketing. As the days pass, the overworked Debbie finds she's enjoying her impromptu "vacation" with the guileless Willy, and Michael auditions Marva — doing something despicable, but keeping his word. Events get simultaneously screwier and more desperate, eventually involving a SWAT team, an O.J. Simpson-like media event, and father and daughter appearing separately on live TV. As delectably sweet and salty as herring in sour cream, this gritty tale — nominated for a 2000 Oscar in the foreign-language category — sometimes seems as noisy and unrefined as Jean himself. But it has just as much heart, and builds up to a rousingly ROCKY-like climax. Some storytelling edges are rough: Jean's drugging of Debbie is shockingly creepy, we never learn why a major pop star lives in a cramped, ordinary apartment, and there are some unfamiliar Flemish references that could easily have been excised. But De Pauw's tragic and utterly human Jean pulls you in and holds the tale together. (In Flemish with English subtitles) leave a comment --Frank Lovece

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