Last year I spent a relaxing weekend in Belgium. What’s that you say? Relaxing? In Belgium? Surely that’s an oxymoron! Like mountain climbing in Holland, or doing anything remotely interesting in Luxembourg.
But, no. It was nice. Brussels was brilliant, Antwerp was amazing, and Zaventem was, well, where they put the airport. And then there was Bruges.
Heavy with history, but easy on the eye, Bruges was my kind of town. The gothic buildings were strewn with Christmas lights, and snow covered the canal bridges like a light dusting of icing sugar. Which was strange, because this was at the end of an especially mild February.
Turns out director Martin McDonagh was making a movie in the city, with the head-smackingly original title of In Bruges. I’m guessing that the lights and fake snow were to enhance the fairy tale atmosphere of the city, although it hardly needed that sort of enhancement.
So, a syopsis: Ken and Ray (Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell), two Irish hit men, flee London after a murder goes terribly wrong. Harry, their gangster boss (Ralph Fiennes), despatches them to Bruges to await further instructions. Meantime, they do the tourist things, although Ray is more interested in using weapons of crass seduction on on local beauty, Chloe (Clemence Poesy).
There’s a lot of laugh-out-loud comedy, and a fair amount of politically incorrect humour, mostly aimed at Americans. But while Ray is getting to know Chloe better, and simultaneously encountering the darker side of Bruges, Harry is giving Ken the awful truth of why they’re in Bruges.
The three principals – Gleeson, Farrell, and Fiennes – act their socks off. And there’s more than a hint of a Father Ted vibe going on between Gleeson and Farrell. For those not in the know, Father Ted is a ludicrous sit-com set on a remote Irish island, where a priest and his gormless curate get into the most preposterous of scrapes. Certainly, Farrell seemed to adopt some of the more clueless expressions of the dim-witted Father Dougal, which lightened the movie's more brutal aspects.
Although there is a lot of graphic violence, you’ll be pleased to learn that no Belgians were hurt in the making of it, so you can sit back and enjoy the bloodfest. Enjoy the acting, too, and the dialogue (the screenplay is written by McDonagh), and the music, and the cinematography. And enjoy it in the cinema rather than waiting for the DVD. Because In Bruges is akin to a piece of theatre. It’s an experience that can be enjoyed best while laughing and gasping in the company of strangers in a darkened room.
And it’s not often you can say that about Belgium.