A footnote to the world's slimmest volume; The Sexual Life of the Belgians (18) Jan Bucquoy

Click to follow
You may well approach a film entitled The Sexual Life of the Belgians with a xenophobic smirk: the name sounds like one of those gags about the world's slimmest volumes (The Book of Italian War Heroes and so on). That smirk will soon crumble from your lips, since the Brussels where much of it takes place is the kind of paradisiacally louche city where gorgeous and not-so-gorgeous women press their intimate favours on the hero, Jan Bucquoy (Jean-Henri Compere) at every turn. A cheery hostess welcomes him to her orgy with an over-enthusiastic blow-job, and, after a gang beating lands Jan in hospital, it seems the most natural gesture in the world for a visitor to offer him not grapes but a quiet suckle of her breast. Trump that, Staines.

Bucquoy is notorious in his native land as a prankster, pornographer, curator of the Museum of Underpants and leader of the Banana Party. He wrote, produced and directed Belgians as the first episode of a shamelessly narcissistic trilogy about his erotic life to date, and it follows him from infancy (when he doted on his mother's "nice tits": there are repeated motifs in this trip down mammary lane) to the age of 28, when he turned away from flesh-and-blood women in favour of the inflatable type. One suspects that in real life Bucquoy could be a prize creep, and yet his celluloid counterpart's adventures are unexpectedly funny and self-deprecating, even charming.

Shot in a static, wilfully primitive style that smacks partly of amateurism and partly of adoration for Godard (posters for his films pop up throughout), the film is equally sharp on Jan's own absurdities and - despite a few glaring anachronisms - the absurdities of the times. Like many a first novel or film, Belgians shows how an ugly-duckling child from the provinces outgrows his working-class family, moves to the big city and discovers Love, Art and Politics, both severally and, since Jan is a child of the Sixties, all wrapped up together. (Bliss was it in that dawn to be read The Communist Manifesto by a naked woman.) Bucquoy's attempts to bail himself out of likely misogyny charges by having the ladies in his life gripe to camera about what a son-of-a-bitch he is don't really wash, and his crowd of feckless bohos aren't nearly as much fun as he seems to think, but Belgians is more than engaging enough to leave you keen for episode two.

Comments