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What I Like About In Bruges

inbrugesposterBy now I’ve seen this film three times, and I’m sure I’ll see it again. It is simply fantastic. The plot concerns two hitmen from the UK (played by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) who have been sent to hide out in the backwater town of Bruges after a job gone bad. Farrell’s character, Ray, is a restless, twitchy sort who is instantly bored out of his mind, while Gleeson’s character, Ken, falls in love with the city and settles comfortably into the role of sightseeing tourist. As the two wait for a call from their temperamental boss (Ralph Fiennes), Ray gets involved with a local girl (Clemence Poesy) and runs afoul of a crusty dwarf (Jordan Prentice) who is appearing in a movie dream sequence being filmed nearby. Meanwhile, we learn more about the circumstances that landed the pair in Bruges and find out that all is not as it seems.

First, it features the work of my favorite artist, Hieronymus Bosch, which is both incredibly awesome and, at the same time, not something you run across very often. I recognized bits of Bosch paintings in the film’s trailer and instantly wanted to see it. The inclusion of Bosch, with his surreal and terrifying depictions of sin, hell and judgment, sets a pretty strong tone for what to expect from In Bruges, and I was neither misled nor disappointed.

Second (and this is rather obvious, but impossible to ignore), In Bruges is set in Bruges. Bruges, in case you don’t know (as I didn’t), is one of the oldest cities in Europe, with whole neighborhoods dating back 700 years and more. It is, by all accounts, one of the most well-preserved medieval cities in existence, and the portrait painted of it by this movie catapulted it instantly to the top of my places-I-want-to-visit list. The city is gorgeous, and the visual atmosphere that it creates within the film is simply indescribable. The characters take a serene boat ride along a canal and visit countless ancient churches by day, and at night the city becomes even more beautiful thanks to the soft glow of countless well-placed lights that show off the local architecture to its best advantage. Bruges truly is a major character in the film.

Third, there is a perfectly-sustained balance between tragedy and comedy. The film’s trailer is certainly cut to make it look like a comedy, and in fact that was how I remembered it after I saw it for the first time. But there is a very hard edge beneath the laughter, and the mood of In Bruges can shift from hilarity to gravity in the blink of an eye. Pretty soon it becomes obvious that, despite their light-hearted (if occasionally ill-tempered) banter, these characters (and Ray in particular) are trying desperately not to think or talk about . . . something that is buried just beneath the surface. In Bruges will make you laugh out loud, but there is a deep sadness at its center that makes that laughter, perhaps any laughter, seem unnaturally loud and more than a little bittersweet.

Fourth, there are interesting spiritual and philosophical questions at work in this movie, but they are designed to slide through your conscious filters into a deep place where they can scratch at your brain from the inside later on. In Bruges leaves an impression that you may not even detect until long after the credits roll. The characters are fantastic, and their story unfolds brilliantly, but the background noise is what really keeps my mind coming back for more. It comes at you like a whip-smart crime thriller, but it’s really an existential romp that’s more concerned with the punishment than the crime. So far it has managed to sneak up on me from a new direction every time I’ve seen it.

Fifth (and I save this for last because it is a bit odd), this is a film that is intensely aware of its excessive use of profanity. According to IMDb, there are 126 f-words packed into the 107 minute runtime. The word is frequently used for either comic or emotional effect (in keeping with the tragi-comic nature of things), and in context its use is the opposite of mindless. Of course, that is a totally subjective assessment on my part, and perhaps almost no one would agree with me, but the very extremity this is taken to is almost a sort of in-joke; all part of the game that is being played.

Ray, for instance, (no paragon of clean speech himself by any stretch of the imagination) wonders incredulously at the intensity of his superior’s swearing at one point. Also, included on the DVD version (which I now own) is a bonus feature which edits together all (or at least most) of the film’s profanity into a concentrated burst lasting about a minute and a half. Perhaps you may think me juvenile or perverse, but there it never fails to make me laugh, and I can’t help but feel that there is something unusually thoughtful behind it (although exactly the opposite may be true). I won’t post it here (although I recommend watching the trailer below), but this clip can be found on YouTube if you so desire (though honestly there’s not a lot of point if you haven’t seen the movie).

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~ by Jared on December 28, 2008.

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