Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Eldorado -- acceptance and grace

Director: Bouli Lanners, 2008.

Eldorado is not about the legendary city of gold deep in the heart of the Amazon jungle. Rather it is a French-speaking Belgian buddy movie about a weird road-trip in a 1979 Chevy Eldorado.

Lanners wrote, directs and stars as a Yvan, a slovenly, hirsute man who comes home to find his house is being burgled. Picking up a lead pipe he enters looking for the burglar. Going into his bedroom it appears empty. But the would-be robber, Didier (Fabrice Adde), is hiding under the bed and won't come out! Yvan decides not to call the police, although this is not explained. Instead, he elects to wait out the burglar by sitting in a chair in his bedroom.

When he finally emerges, Yvan decides to give him a ride back towards town and drops him off at a crossroads and then proceeds to do his own business. When he returns later to find Didier still waiting in the same place, he once again takes pity on the poor man and agrees to take him to his parents home on the Belgian border.

Eldorado has some very funny moments, but is filled with absurdity along the way. Lanners brings some bizarre characters into the film for distinct episodes but some of them feel overly contrived, such as the naked camper and the hugger. In the end, it is more sick and sad than funny and fulfilling.

Yvan and Didier are polar opposites, which is expected in a buddy movie. Didier is rake thin and scrawny. He is a drug addict who has apparently kicked the habit. Talkative and jittery, he is ready to spin a line or two. Yvan is larger and more reflective. He keeps his thoughts to himself. Neither are Hollywood cute; both are humdrum and ordinary, even homely. But both have secrets they harbor in their hearts.

Yvan is a picture of sorts of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10). Finding Didier vulnerable and harmless in his house, he has compassion on him. This is grace in action. He could have called the police and had Didier thrown in jail, but love prevailed. He was willing to accept him and even help him in his desire to return to his parents' home.

When Didier finally arrives at his parents' home it is no poignant moment. This is not the return of the prodigal son (Lk. 15). Without grace to oil the cogs of a relationship, they grow rusty and refuse to turn. Relationships become bitter and hateful rather than better and loving. The fateful family reunion gives a hint of what that parable would have been like apart from grace.

Yvan has been compared by some critics to the Coen brothers, and this film in particular to The Big Lebowski. Both have elements of the absurd and freaky folks throughout. Yet, Eldorado descends from an intriguing beginning to a disappointing ending. Ultimately, the bleak conclusion leaves us feeling frustrated. What is the point that Lanners wants us to take away?

How is Yvan's grace repaid? It is not. But that is the point of grace. It is freely given, not a loan. Grace cannot be repaid. If it is given with the expectation of repayment, then it is not grace at all.

Eldorado left me thinking about grace and acceptance. Am I willing to offer grace to those less fortunate than me? Am I willing to go the extra mile or more to help others like Didier who are in desperate need? It is all too easy to push the marginalized away, to look down on them, to turn away. But like Yvan, the graceful and compassionate response is acceptance even if it is costly.

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

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