When news broke that Tom Barman was going to direct a feature film I wasn't all that excited. Barman is the front-man of the respected Belgian rock formation dEUS and I'm not exactly a fan of their work. But instead of going all rock 'n roll on everybody, Barman teamed up with techno/house icon CJ Bolland and delivered a sprawling film that spends a day in the vicinity of Antwerp, the city I've been calling home for the past ten years.
Let me start this review with a bold claim: Any Way The Wind Blows is the most important Flemish (that is the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium) film of the past 20 years. Without it, films like Small Gods, Ex Drummer, 22 Mei, Dirty Mind or Rundskop wouldn't have had a fighting chance and we'd probably still be stuck with an endless stream of dead-born social dramas. Not to say that these films copied from Barman's freshmen film directly, but Any Way The Wind Blows certainly changed something in the way we looked at our own films.
If anything, Any Way The Wind Blows showed us that we too could produce films with a certain level of originality. Films that differentiated themselves from everything out there and delivered something unique and new to the table. Because like it or not, Any Way The Wind Blows does exactly that. I've seen the film a couple of times now and find it hard to compare it to any other film out there. It's an experience that is part of our culture, even part of the city I live in.
Any Way The Wind Blows is a collection of stories that culminate in a house party in the middle of Antwerp. It's Projext X avant la lettre, for a slighter older age group and with a bit more variation in stories. Some stories intertwine, some character become part of multiple stories, other remain completely separate for the entire running time. Central to this entire setup stands "the windman", a strange character that is somehow driven by a mysterious force and floats in between all the different characters and events.
Any Way The Wind Blows is a very pleasant film to look at. It's not overly stylized, but the camera work is well thought out, varied and holds a couple of nifty surprises. Barman plays around with the pacing and editing, cutting a lot between different stories and throwing in a few well-timed slow-motion/fast-forward scenes. In the end everything gels together tightly, creating a soothing and sultry visual vibe.
The soundtrack is what surprised me the most though. I expected something along the lines of dEUS, but Barman got together with CJ Bolland (operating as Magnus on the soundtrack) and delivered a few truly engaging tracks. The soundtrack in its entirety is pretty electronic-oriented (also featuring Aphrodite and Squarepusher), building up to quite the climax at the party. Once again, it pays to have someone with a background in music to helm a feature film.
One of the reasons why Any Way The Wind Blows is so important is because it embraces a more natural style of acting. The Flemish region isn't very big, but through the years we've been ruled by many and because of that it's bustling with different accents and dialects. Most Flemish films tried to shun that, opting for a more forced, sanitised version of our mother tongue, but ultimately coming off as stiff and fake. Barman embraces this variety in our language and the film is all the better for it. The actors too do a pretty good job, with Matthias Schoenaerts (Rundskop), Sam Louwyck (Ex Drummer) and Titus De Voogdt (Small Gods) making the best impressions.
The structure of Any Way The Wind Blows basically works on two levels. First of all the film builds up to the party where all the characters meet up, but that party's climax comes about 30 minutes earlier than the actual ending of the film. The funky part (if you're into that kind of thing of course) is that Any Way The Wind Blows also serves as an unfinished intro to a much bigger story, one that isn't told in the film. The events at the party start a few new story arcs, but by the time they are properly introduced the film simply ends. It's somewhat of a gamble as some people won't appreciate this kind of unfinished structure, but it goes with the free-form atmosphere of the film and just reinforces the "one day in the city" vibe that Barman is going for.
Tom Barman delivers a surprisingly fun, unique and mature film that isn't exactly a comedy, but still contains enough moments that are worthy of a chuckle. It's a film that breathes Antwerp, brings together a cast of varied characters and subjects them to a selection of weird, awkward and funny situations. I'm still not a fan of dEUS, but last I heard Barman was working on a new film and I'd be more than happy to welcome it.