Belgica is an infuriating story of friends in business, and not an uncommon one either. It is crafted to provoke that response so in this regard it is highly successful.
Frank (Tom Vermeir) gets a job as a bartender at Belgica, and has the idea to turn it into a hip music club. They do and Belgica is a happening joint, but Frank’s dangerous personality threatens it all. Meanwhile Jo (Stef Aerts) becomes a responsible businessman, if not a good boyfriend.
Director Felix van Groeningen really captures the appeal of partying at Belgica. Since I hate loud crowded nightclubs, that’s saying a lot. It’s photographed sexily with couples making out to the music, pulsating sound design that made the nn ts nn ts nn ts nn ts sound like art. Maybe because it’s Belgian it sounds more exotic than American club music to me.
But there have been stories about great business that fell apart due to one particular wild card. The story Belgica reminded me of the most was Casino and Frank is the Joe Pesci. He does cocaine, like everywhere, but even if he weren’t on drugs his anger would be a dangerous problem. That means Vermeir gives a great performance because he made me truly disgusted with Frank.
It’s interesting watching the boys learn how to manage a club the hard way. Dealing with rowdy patrons isn’t quite cut and dry. Club owners have liability. Mostly it’s Frank who reacts excessively and gets them in trouble. Hey, maybe if you didn’t stay up all night doing coke you’d have an easier time managing your finances!
Along the way we also see Frank’s marriage and Jo’s relationship as the struggle and blossom respectively. It adds a slice of life to the business story but the main heart is Frank and Jo becoming estranged as Jo learns how to be quite a responsible manager and Frank… doesn’t.
A Belgian night club drama might not be the first thing you look for at the movies, but if you’re exploring festival selections and foreign cinema, Belgica puts on a good show. Probably best not to see if you’re already stressed about something because Frank will push you over the edge.