"The Barons" is an often witty take on life in the multicultural Molenbeek nabe of Brussels.

The motto of a group of Belgian-Moroccans from da hood is to live longer by doing less in comedy “The Barons,” an often witty take on life in the multicultural Molenbeek nabe of Brussels. Tyro helmer Nabil Ben Yadir’s freewheeling approach is too undisciplined to sustain interest throughout, but local auds have flocked to this comedy, which reflects a reality seen clearly on Belgian streets but rarely onscreen. This unpretentious and visually unsophisticated laffer easily surpassed local B.O. standards set by the Dardenne brothers. The pic’s bow in co-producing Gaul is set for Jan. 20.

Second-generation immigrant Hassan (Nadar Boussandel) dreams of making it big as a stand-up comedian, but his family would prefer him to take a more stable job. He’s in love with TV news presenter Malika (Amelle Chahbi), one of the few people who have managed to succeed in life beyond the borders of Molenbeek.

Hassan is part of a small group of friends nicknamed “The Barons,” whose philosophy is that every literal step brings one closer to death, so it’s important to take as few steps as possible. The gang also includes Malika’s brother, Mounir (Mourade Zeguendi) and rubber-faced wannabe immigrant, Franck (Julien Courbey), the only non-Muslim. Each member is proudly unemployed and owns one-eighth of a shared BMW. (“Not a good idea,” explains Hassan in v.o., “as there are only seven days in a week.”)

Pic doesn’t push its satire far enough to comment on the perceived laziness of immigrants. Instead, it opts for a melodramatic, often funny, but rarely insightful look at Hassan’s struggles to reconcile his being a Baron with his desire to have a career as a comedian and to attract the attention of Malika.

Issues such as women’s required virginity before marriage are integrated with a deft dramatic touch and are reminiscent of the seriocomic early films of Josef Fares and Fatih Akin, but those helmers showed more rigor in balancing humor and narrative. The screenplay and Damien Keyeux’s undisciplined editing simply stitch together the many sketch-like scenes in perfunctory fashion, and the film could easily loose 20 minutes.

With the help of added onscreen visuals, the pic is often energetic. This isn’t entirely matched by the pic’s look, which had a dull and saturated color palette and unclear contours at the screening caught, reminiscent of the overprocessed look of “JCVD.” Other tech credits are in line with the general low-fi approach.

As Hassan, Boussandel makes for an affable lead, and he shines opposite veteran actors Edouard Baer (as a seedy comedy club owner) and Jan Decleir (a shop owner). Chahbi, as Malika, is less convincing, underlining every gesture, but the rest of the cast lends able support.

One belly-laugh at the very end involves a language joke that only Belgian auds will understand, but again clearly anchors the pic in Brussels’ Muslim community.

The Barons

Belgium-France

Production

A Cineart release of a Entre Chien & Loup presentation of an Entre Chien & Loup, Prime Time (Belgium)/Liaison Cinematographique (France) production, in association with CFWB, CNC, with participation of ACSE, RTBF, VAF. (International sales: Entre Chien & Loup, Brussels.) Produced by Diane Elbaum, Sebastien Delloye. Directed by Nabil Ben Yadir. Screenplay, Laurent Brandenbourger, Ben Yadir.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Danny Elsen; editor, Damien Keyeux; music, Imhotep; production designer, Mohammed Ayada; costume designer, Patricia Gelise; sound (Dolby), Dirk Bombey; special effects, Francois Jacques; stunts, Olivier Bisback; assistant director, Nicola Oliverio; casting, Gerda Diddens. Reviewed at Kinepolis, Brussels, Dec. 14, 2009. (In Namur French Film Festival -- opener.) Running time: 110 MIN.

With

Nadar Boussandel, Mourade Zeguendi, Amelle Chahbi, Mounir Ait Hamou, Salah-Eddine Benmoussa, Edouard Baer, Jan Decleir, Julien Courbey, Mohamed Fellag.
(French, Arabic, Dutch dialogue)

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