Intricate and well-told tale of a gruff avenging angel haunted by encroaching Alzheimer's disease boasts a riveting central perf by Jan Decleir. Pic, whose three-week lead atop Belgium's B.O. was ended only by the release of "Matrix Revolutions," is already guaranteed a slot in the all-time Flemish Top 10. Offshore chances look warm.

This review was updated on Nov. 20, 2003.

A gripping,stylishly lensed thriller, “The Alzheimer Affair” examines pedophilia among Belgium’s ruling elite through the eyes of a sickly hit man repulsed by the true contours of his final contract. Intricate and well-told tale of a gruff avenging angel haunted by encroaching Alzheimer’s disease boasts a riveting central perf by Jan Decleir, the imposing thesp from foreign-lingo Oscar winners “Character” (1997) and “Antonia’s Line” (1995). Pic, whose three-week lead atop Belgium’s B.O. was ended only by the release of “Matrix Revolutions,” is already guaranteed a slot in the all-time Flemish Top 10. Offshore chances look warm.

While suspenseful and involving, film also has done so well on home turf because the story, set in Antwerp in 1995, implicitly critiques the multiple factors that have allowed real-life child prostitution rings to flourish.

Still, pic functions just fine as a stand-alone thriller, with enough layers of deceit to grab offshore auds. Some may quibble that the approach too closely resembles some of the better American cop shows but film features enough big-screen qualities to overcome such criticism.

Hit man Angelo Ledda (Decleir) reluctantly leaves his base in Marseilles to carry out a two-target contract, brokered by smooth middleman Seynaeve (Gene Bervoets). No-nonsense Angelo is very good at his job, but each day brings more insistent evidence of Alzheimer’s, which pills are doing less and less to keep at bay. Angelo’s disarray is keenly translated via skewed camera angles and memory-jogging snippets of recent and distant events.

When Angelo realizes he’s expected to eliminate a girl who’s not yet 13, he refuses, confident no self-respecting colleague will do the job either — but he’s wrong. Outraged at being a pawn for well-connected high-ups, and disgusted that traditional law enforcement can’t seem to nail the power-brokers preying on underage flesh, Angelo decides to exercise his own brand of frontier justice, with an impressive mix of chutzpah and panache.

Det. Chief Inspector Eric Vincke (Koen de Bouw) and his partner, Freddy Verstuyft (Werner de Smedt), are smart cops. But their relative youth, their obligation to uphold the law, and the fact the truly powerful tend to protect each other, make it a supreme challenge to figure out who’s murdering key figures in high places, and why.

Extremely clear in his self-appointed mission, Angelo’s behavior creates three-pronged dramatic tension: He’s running around Antwerp killing people who probably deserve to die; he’s outsmarting the police by a hair every step of the way; and his genetic clock is ticking. Elliptical editing delivers the puzzle pieces with verve.

Pic neatly demonstrates the inefficiency that results from animosity between the judiciary police and beat cops. Both are as reluctant to share info or yield turf as the FBI and CIA.

In no way salacious regarding its subject matter, pic relates the degradation of child prostitution by concentrating relatively briefly on just one child. Narrative incorporates enough ruthless behavior, violent retribution and insider hypocrisy to stock half a season’s worth of cop shows.

Score by Stephen Warbeck is punctuated by lots of emphatic drum rolls and uneasy chords.

The Alzheimer Affair

Belgium - Netherlands

Production

An MMG production, in association with VRT, Tros. Produced by Erwin Provoost, Hilde de Laere. Co-producers, Mark de Geest, Ludo Busschots, Ted Mooren. Directed by Erik van Looy. Screenplay, Carl Joos, van Looy, based on the novel by Jef Geeraerts.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Danny Elsen; editors, Philippe Ravoet, Yoohan Leyssens; music, Stephen Warbeck; art director, Johan van Essche; costume designer, Kristin van Passel; sound (Dolby), Geert Engels; associate producers, Guido Dekeyser, Sjef Scholte, Nico Geusebroek; casting, Gunter Schmid. Reviewed at Pathe screening room, Paris, Nov. 6, 2003. (Also in Flanders Film Festival -- opener.) Running time: 123 MIN.

With

Angelo Ledda - Jan Decleir Eric Vincke - Koen de Bouw Freddy Verstuyft - Werner de Smedt Seynaeve - Gene Bervoets Baron Gustave de Haeck - Jo de Meyere Jean de Haeck - Tom Van Dyck
With: Lucas van den Eynde, Lone van Roosendaal, Vic de Wachter, Geert van Rampelberg, Hilde de Baerdemaeker, Laurien van den Broeck, Johan van Assche, Jappe Claes, Filip Peeters, Deborah Ostrega. (Flemish, French dialogue)
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