It’s impossible not to warm to this Flemish road movie which takes as its starting-point the defiant cry of “I’m not going to bloody die a virgin!” from Lars (Gilles De Schijver), forced into a wheelchair by terminal cancer. His two pals have no such deadlines to meet, but Jozef (Tom Audenaert) is blind and Philip (Robrecht Vanden Thoren) is a quadriplegic – and most of the time not a very pleasant one, either.
Herein lies the film’s great strength: its characterisation, which time and again comes to the rescue of situations which threaten to become predictable as the van carrying the three virgins makes its way from Belgium through French vineyards and down to the Costa del Sol, where Philip has discovered a brothel that specialises in catering for the disabled. The van is driven by the forbidding Claude, aka “The Mammoth” (Isabel de Hertogh). Initially the butt of Philip and the others’ derision, he is soon revealed as being just as complicated and damaged as they are.
… the idyll is punctuated by interludes in grim Novotels and well-paced bursts of slapstick …
The journey takes on a golden Sideways-type hue, though the idyll is punctuated by interludes in grim Novotels and well-paced bursts of slapstick, which again develop from the characters’ interaction and aren’t laid on artificially. And when the story reaches its climax and risks descending into sentimentality, instead it teeters like Jozef on the edge of the villa swimming pool but never falls in. Hugging isn’t what you’d call easy among the foursome anyway.
If there is a weak link in the story, it’s the three sets of parents, only lightly sketched in and also guilty of unbelievable behaviour in the service of advancing the plot; everyone else (including Lars’s little sister) is handed smart and unexpectedly playful dialogue, not to mention highly enjoyable invective directed against, among others, the Dutch and Ryanair.
To call HASTA LA VISTA (its much better original title) a crowd-pleaser is in no way to belittle it: humane, funny and beautifully acted, the film deserves to be seen by a large audience, which won’t be disappointed.
COME AS YOU ARE screens again at 13:30 on Thursday 20th September.