Belgians Waffle on Dutch Dates
Crazy semi-demimonde love affaires are no novelty on the screen, and though it has its merits, co-writer Felix van Groeningen’s directorial first feature, Steve + Sky, has nothing memorably new to offer aside from character quirks. Whether for budget or vogue, images are in the now apparently unstoppable high-grain style, daylight overexposed and predominantly neon-lit night or interiors punctuated by garish vermilions and blues, to a grating Soulwax soundtrack, as the title characters drift together and apart, back and forth, and again sort of together at last count.
In this English-subtitled Dutch-language but Belgian production, there are hints that more is here than meets the eye (there isn’t), as in the to-be-told-again-with-variations opening story narrated about a father-son disagreement over an Opel Kadett, resolved by dad’s tossing a cigarette lighter to blow up car, self and offspring. Or water, always a handy symbol of something, as in an aquarium of, and philosophical discussion about, goldfish that survive a trip to a bathtub, and a recurrent blue pool with white ripples. Or a not quite intelligible disjointing of time, past and present repeated with perhaps differences as to cause and participants.
Sparsely moustached one-suit Steve (Titus De Voogdt) is in jail for moving Ecstasy and is getting to know cellmate Jean-Claude (Johan Heldenbergh), wheelchair-bound from a bullet when he worked as a bouncer. Mentally free since he “stopped being cool” in March 1997, the paraplegic will teach the other to steal motorcycles -- this gambit is among several that are brought in, lead nowhere, and disappear -- but winds up hiring Steve as a sort of dutyless factotum at the Antwerp stripper bar he is opening.
In short intercuts throughout this, a slender vacuously sexy blonde is shown walking into and within various places, including a few where Steve glimpses her. The dark unexplained girl who is driving him when he is carelessly busted with the drugs, wants to know if he would go out with the blonde, whom he later runs into at a bowling alley bar. She never has matches or a lighter (so he offers his), habitually orders vodka and a banana split, is a mass of little superstitions, and has a maybe fake epileptic fit during which he steals her money and she injures her left arm. These little idiosyncrasies could have been made interesting but remain undeveloped as far as the film goes, the only constant being the blue soft elbow cast she wears and her astounding changes of skimpy clothing which could not possibly fit in her small room.
Her name is Sky (Delfine Bafort), and she was a temporary hooker to pay lawyer fees for imprisoned boyfriend Marc (Jonas Boel), who found out and beat her up. As a favor, she becomes one of the B-girls at her mother’s ex-lover Jean-Claude’s new gentlemen’s club, in between time loosely counseling the boss’ randy rebellious daughter Charlotte (Romy Bollion).
Attracted, Steve proposes that Sky go to bed and to sleep with him, but without sex. That changes the third night, and she is in love with him -- “Just look at me like you love me” -- while he is so set on not committing that they never go to his place. The two usually get along famously and even take a motorcycle trip to France, but, half-a-head shorter than she, Steve keeps his emotional distance. Centered around this couple and their coupling, with occasional comments from Jean-Claude, the film never decides where it wants to go. The result is harmless enough and curiously non-erotic despite some nudity and a male full-frontal.
When the club fails and repro men come and take everything, Steve agrees to his ex-cellmate and –boss’ suggestion that they two start all over again in Slovenia. The not-quite girlfriend is naturally upset about the men’s upcoming departure, literally runs into steel doors and walls, and things come to a head. The same cannot be said of the film, which, despite pretensions, never rises above a little slice of something or other.
(Released by Worldwide Distribution/Lifesize Entertainment; not rated by MPAA.)