Shades (1999)

Rating: B

Dir: Eric Van Loy
Star: Mickey Rourke, Gene Bervoets, Andrew Howard, Jan DeCleir

If ever you want to be put off the movie biz, this Belgian film should do the trick. It depicts the making of a feature, also called Shades, about serial killer Freddie Lebecq (DeCleir), a figure loosely modelled on real murderer Freddy Horion. Producer Vogel (Bervoets) is struggling to cope with an egotistic star (Howard), hostile public reaction, and washed-up director Paul Sullivan. Oh, and to make things even more interesting, Lebecq is up for parole from prison, so has a keen interest in proceedings. It says something that Mickey Rourke’s Sullivan is the most sympathetic participant, just ahead of Lebecq, whose criminal career was started by a jail sentence for a robbery he didn’t actually commit.

The rest of the characters are all screwing everyone else, literally or figuratively; I suspect writer Guy Lee Thys must have had some bad experiences, since you’ll come away with a very low impression of film-makers in general. Can’t help liking Vogel though, whose single-minded devotion to finishing his movie, at all costs, can only be admired. The mix of Flemish and English dialogue is kinda clunky, and the final confrontation doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Still, it’s doing something different from the usual Euro-pudding, and as a bleak and cynical look at the business of cinema, and media manipulation in general, it connects with a good number of powerful jabs.