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For a film that was marketed as an ode to life J’aime la Vie is a surprisingly drab and joyless affair: the movie hopes to coast by on big themes and performances alone but doesn’t get away with it.

The title of the picture was borrowed from the fun, poppy eighties hit that gave Belgium its only ever victory in the European Song Contest, but J’aime la Vie is fun nor poppy nor life-affirming. Frankly it’s the kind of film Flemish cinema used to make before the industry professionalised twenty years ago, the likes of which I had hoped never to see again.

Making his directing debut with this picture about a single mom who learns she has an aggressive cancer actor Mathias Sercu was spurred on to make J’aime la Vie due to events in his own life (his son has an incurable disease) but he fails to channel this into a film that feels personal.

On the contrary, J’aime la Vie is a hodgepodge of clichés and insincere dramatic add-ons. Why for example add a non-binary son if it has next to no effect on the story, or how to explain why the lead character’s youngest brother is mentally challenged and her older brother is dating an exotic dancer, if not for a lack of narrative imagination and nothing else?

Visually Sercu gives no indication either that there’s a promising director hiding inside the actor, as the film is indistinguishable from a run-of-the-mill TV show, both in tempo and cinematic scope, while the acting is nothing to write home about either.

So when the picture ends on a cover of the song that inspired the movie, a version that is totally stripped of charm, joy and enthusiasm, you can’t help but wonder if the filmmakers are aware of the irony.

release: 2023

director: Mathias Sercu

starring: Janne Desmet, Jurgen Delnaet, Greet Verstraete, Els Olaerts


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