Although it may not sound like the most exciting place on earth, "Moscow, Belgium" is packed with plenty of drama, laughs and sentimental charm.

Although it may not sound like the most exciting place on earth, “Moscow, Belgium” is packed with plenty of drama, laughs and sentimental charm. Accomplished freshman outing by Flemish TV director Christophe van Rompaey features a knockout perf from actress Barbara Sarafian (“8½ Women”) as a mother of three caught in a love triangle with two good-natured losers. Working-class dramedy, in the tradition of Mike Leigh’s best early efforts, should score well with both local and Euro auds. Overseas pickups look likely.

Life is no field day for thick-skinned, forty-something postal worker Matty (Sarafian). Recently dumped by her art-teacher husband Werner (Johan Hildenbergh) for a nympho student, she’s all but given up on the male breed. Meanwhile, her three sweet but kooky children — sexually ambiguous Vera (Anemone Valcke), tarot-obsessed Fien (Sofia Ferri) and ultra-nerdy Peter (Julian Borsani) — don’t make the daily grind any easier.

In a supermarket parking lot, she gets into a mild fender-bender with Johnny (Jurgen Delnaet), a cagey, ex-alcoholic truck driver who’s more than 10 years her junior. Immediately hooked by Matty’s big mouth and sharp wit, he offers ice cream to her kids, then shows up the next day to help fix her damaged car trunk.

After a rowdy first date, Matty begins to open up to Johnny’s free-spirited, on-the-road demeanor. Then Werner, who’s grown tired of his sex-a-thon, pops back into the picture.

Working with an excellent script by producer Jean-Claude van Rijkeghem and Pat van Beirs, helmer van Rompaey never underestimates the power of solid screenwriting. He handles the material with a Steadicam directness meant to capture the best from the talented ensemble cast, finding a perfect balance between pic’s giddier and tougher moments.

Most of the action takes place chez Matty, who has a high-rise apartment in a working-class neighborhood of Ghent named “Moscou.” Skilled lensing by Ruben Impens deftly portrays the glum surroundings, which also include several trucker bars and the drab post office where Matty serves some feisty elderly clients.

Thesps Sarafian and Delnaet make for a dynamically credible team, restraining their perfs to match the realistic tone and never overcharging the script’s more emotional moments. Younger supports are all on-the-mark; their endearing performances manage to reveal a generous side to the kids that parents, and particularly Matty, are more in need of than they may believe.

Moscow, Belgium

Belgium

Production

A Private View production. (International sales: Bavaria Film Intl., Munich.) Produced by Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem. Directed by Christophe van Rompaey. Screenplay, Jean-Claude van Rijkeghem, Pat van Beirs.

Crew

Camera (color), Ruben Impens; editor, Alain Dessauvage; production designer, Steven Liegeois; costume designer, Tine Verbeurgt; sound (Dolby Digital), Dirk Bombey, Alex Goosse, Frederik van de Moortel; assistant director, Hendrik Moonen. Reviewed at Cinematheque Francaise, Paris, April 30, 2008. (In Cannes Film Festival -- Critics' Week.) Running time: 106 MIN.

With

Barbara Sarafian, Jurgen Delnaet, Johan Hildenbergh, Anemone Valcke, Sofia Ferri, Julian Borsani. (Flemish dialogue)

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