His delusions make `Famous' grander

September 07, 2001|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

How far would you go for fame?

For Jean Vereechen, the hero of this deadpan Oscar-nominated caper farce from Belgium, there are no limits - especially when the person he's trying to make famous is his daughter. And if, in the process, the spotlight shines on him too, so much the better.

Writer-director Dominique Deruddere populates Everybody's Famous with people for whom the word drudgery was invented. Jean (Josse De Pauw) has a dead-end job at a local factory; the only things that keep him going are his twin delusions: that he's a talented songwriter (he isn't) and that his teen daughter, Marva, has real singing talent (she doesn't). For her part, Marva (newcomer Eva Van Der Gucht) is sullen, overweight and treats her father like scum. Jean's co-worker, Willy Van Outvever (Werner De Smedt), considers Jean his hero, which should tell you where he's at. And Jean's wife, Chantal (Gert Portael) just sits impassively, waiting for the world to pass by.

The genius of Famous is not that Jean is chafing to escape his limitations. He doesn't acknowledge them. The only thing wrong with his life is that he hasn't hit on the right formula yet. Fame will be his someday, and anything he needs to do to get it - including embarrassing his daughter by continuing to enter her in vocal competitions - is not only OK, but also expected.

Ultimately, that includes kidnapping Belgium's biggest pop star, Debbie (Thekla Reuten), and demanding, as ransom, that her record company release a recording of his daughter singing his song. Jean treats the crime not so much as an act of desperation but as a logical next step.

But logic has little to do with what happens from here on, as Debbie's kidnapping turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to all concerned. Even Jean.

Famous isn't as insightful as it thinks it is; the idea that people will do almost anything to become famous isn't exactly a revelation. But Deruddere's droll approach to the subject, and De Pauw's touching portrayal of a man waiting for the success that is his birthright, turns it into a fresh take on an old theme.

Everybody's Famous

Starring Josse De Pauw, Werner De Smedt, Eva Van Der Gucht

Wriiten and directed by Dominique Deruddere

Rated R (sexuality, kidnapping; in Dutch, with English subtitles)

Released by Miramax Films

Running time 97 minutes

Sun score ***

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