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The Misfortunates 2009

The Misfortunates | The Shittiness of Things | De helaasheid der dingen

The Misfortunates-The Shittiness of Things-De helaasheid der dinge

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About The Misfortunates 💬

"Any similarities between certain characters in this book and real people is due entirely to insight into human nature."

Gunther Strobbe

Based on the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Belgian writer Dimitri Verhulst.

Gunther Strobbe is a 13 years old boy who lives in his grandmother's house in a small Belgian town with his alcoholic father Celle (Koen De Graeve) and three uncles (Breejen, Koen, and Lowie). The all-male family lives in the filthiest shack in the unsightly town of Reetveerdegem according to the principle: "God created the day and we party our way through it."

Life in the household is clearly dysfunctional, yet it's hard to condemn the Strobbes. Their hearts are in the right place - it's just that they can't seem to help turning everything around them into an unmitigated disaster. The Strobbes enter drinking contests, ride bicycles naked, teach vulgar songs to little girls and end up in the hospital, then head right back to the bar the next day. Gunther is an observer in this broken home that reeks of cigarette smoke, spilled beer and sweat-stained clothes. He participates in his drunken uncles' shenanigans only to fit in, hiding his true passion for writing. The Strobbes will make you laugh your eyes out and cry out loud. Everything points to Gunther suffering the same fate. Or does he still have the opportunity to escape the misfortune of the Stobbes?


THE MISFORTUNATES, based on Dimitri Verhulst's novel De Helaasheid der Dingen, is Felix van Groeningen's third feature film.

Verhulst's semi-autobiographical story found immediate success when it was published in 2006. In spite of the novel's success - both critical and commercial - and its instant status as a modern literary standard, Verhulst and van Groeningen decided that the film could actually surpass the book version in its characterization and drama: the book was great, the film is even better. How often does that happen?


"Unusually harsh and yet poetic, I find that extremely good."

THE MISFORTUNATES is the third feature film by 31-year-old Felix van Groeningen. This major talent from Flanders, Belgium filmed a much read and much-praised novel written by Dimitri Verhulst. Finding a link between humor, deep black romance, ice-cold cynicism and Roy Orbison was difficult, but not impossible. "Many scenes are hilarious but suddenly things turn so poignant that the laughs die in your throat. For those moments - that's what you live for," Felix van Groeningen says.

Rather than peddling the film for three or four years or begging for money, Felix van Groeningen made his first film at the age of 26. The Flemish press reacted enthusiastically to "Steve + Sky", a visually brilliant, raw love story of two twenty-something on the dole. "Steve + Sky" turned out not to be the limit but only the beginning. Van Groeningen wasn't even thirty when he confirmed his talent with "With Friends Like These" ("Days Without Love / Dagen Zonder Lief"). Using humor and compassion he paints a portrait of near-thirty-somethings with misgivings who are terrified to find that the everything-is-possible feeling has been replaced by the is-this-everything-there-is feeling. And that's not all for the director. By filming a bestselling book by Dimitri Verhulst, he takes another step forward.

Q: How did you end up with the book?

Felix van Groeningen: I was looking for a book to turn into a film. I don't read much, but I fell for Dimitri Verhulst'sprevious books. He writes books I would want to be able to write, but I don't have the chops for that. He is unusually harsh and yet poetic, I find that extremely good. He dares to go beyond, writes what others don't dare say. He paints a picture of all human failings: merciless but with humor. He brutally exposes people but at the same time loves them. I felt as if it was speaking to me. I also very much like the way he structures his story. Only at the end do you discover the unity in what earlier looked like unconnected stories. After three chapters I was certain that it was impossible to turn it into a film. But when I finished the book, I did see how it could be done. In the last three chapters, everything has meaning. I was crying my eyes out while I read them. All the vulgarities, all the funny anecdotes from the first part fell into place. A small kid grows up in crazy circumstances. Every evening Gunther joins his father and uncles in the local bar: they drink themselves into oblivion while Gunther does his homework and writes out his punishment lines. He wants to belong and looks up to his father and uncles. Many years later the same boy has become a very cynical person. He becomes a father but he doesn't want the child at all. You wonder how a person can go through life like that. But at the same time, you do understand him: someone who lived through and missed so much, is angry at the world. In the end, he does land on his feet.

Q: How did you manage to appropriate the story?

Felix van Groeningen: It gradually grew into my story. This is my third film, but the first time I filmed a book. Because there was so much brilliant material, the script came unusually quick. Writing for me is the hardest part with the largest ups and downs. The treatment was finished in two weeks, after two months the script was on the table. People thought it was the bomb, but that was mainly due to the material it was founded on. After the first euphoria, there was still a lot of hard work and hard slogging to align the film and the book. It is certainly not an easy book to turn into a film. In the book jumping around in time is not a problem for the reader; a film has to follow other laws. Yet I noticed that the hard moments in the book are also the hard moments of the film. Initially, I significantly deviated from the book, but later returned to it. I think that is a healthy evolution. The book is a treasure trove of material; it is wonderful to be able to fall back on that when you hit a wall. You can turn books into films, provided you really love the book. Your heart should melt and you must be able to transfer that feeling to the film. In order to avoid meaningless discussions, the writer proposed at the start of the filming that we would agree that the film is really better than the book.

Q: The book's tone is unique. Some scenes with common people could come across as crass if you were to film them literally. How do you avoid that danger?

Felix van Groeningen: The book is brilliant but many fragments are too anecdotal if you were to film them literally. The uncles aren't real persons, but Verhulst writes so beautifully that you can still imagine something. The hardest part was the main character: a 13-year-old boy who mainly watches and describes. Thatis too passive for a film. I made it more classic. It became more the story of a boy who wants to escape his environment than I initially intended. Discussions with Dimitri Verhulst and reading interviews helped me. The book is partially autobiographic; I understood that there was quite a lot of violence at home. His father sometimes lost it, chased him with a knife. Of course, that boy is proud of the people he grew up with and he looks up to his uncles and he likes a lot of things. But the insanity of alcohol turns against him. And then you start looking for a way out. In the film, the main character is more active than in the book. He uses the codes he knows, the codes of the clan. But in order to survive, he must find his own way around them. All the brilliant chapters are in the film - including the world drinking championship - but they had to become more functional. It must be fun, or moving and say something and fit in the story's arch.

Q: You cannot do away with the humor and black romance but suppose you could, then all you see is black misery and much sadness. How did you find a balance?

Felix van Groeningen: During the filming, we laughed a lot. Many scenes are hilarious but suddenly things turn so poignant that the laughs die in your throat. That is why you do this. That is why you make a film. The viewer will laugh himself or herself silly, just like the reader, but then things sometimes turn around quickly. I already dealt with those extremes in my previous films. Sometimes it was intense. The whole crew was worn out after shooting the scene where the father attacks the son. We only had a few takes, I was afraid that it was too intense for the young actor and for the viewer. But it was not so bad when I watched the rushes. It even could take a little more. We filmed a more intense version. You evoke emotion by moving things together. The book's humor was sometimes too coarse for a film. Then what you want to do is work hard with the actors on formulating the character and putting that into a framework. Ferreting out things while experimenting, that's what I like.

Q: Could you have made this film without the experience you gained with Steve + Sky and With Friends Like These?

Felix van Groeningen: No. It is very technical and you must really know what you want to say. With all those different storylines and all those characters I wouldn't have been able to see the wood for the trees. I learn a lot from each film.

Q: How did you deal visually with THE MISFORTUNATES?

Felix van Groeningen: I love visually strong films. The film jumps between the present and the past. I chose two different styles. The story of the young man trying to be a writer I kept sober and light. The past should be a trip. I looked for orchestrated chaos: all kinds of things happened all the time, simultaneously. We filmed with the camera in our hands, very fast. The look is from the eighties, but the style is more recent. Not very recent, but contemporary. You cannot avoid the reconstruction. That is why I dove into photo books and documentaries from that time. The costumes and the haircuts had the greatest effects. The production design people enthusiastically started hunting for BMX bicycles and the correct cars. I had resolved not to become too obsessive but it was rather nice to recreate the eighties. All those things from the past made me very melancholic.

Q: A more beautiful ode to Roy Orbison than the one in the chapter "Only the Lonely" still has to be written. Don't tell me that part didn't make it to the film.

Felix van Groeningen: It is very expensive to get permission to use a Roy Orbison song. It hurts to spend so much money on two songs because you know how much you could do with that money. But we couldn't avoid it. I am glad we did it: the scenes with "Only the Lonely" and "Pretty Woman" are brilliant. I am not a rabid Roy Orbison fan but he plays a star part in the film. Verhulst beautifully described how intensely the brothers look up to Roy Orbison. For the other parts we didn't use source music but a score by the famous Belgian jazz pianist Jef Neve. I had worked with him before. This time he bought a computer program and learned how to make a model using various instruments. Gradually we evolved to a very classical score, with a waltz, with greasy violin players who weren't afraid of emotion. It just avoids going overboard. I am very proud of the result. Some people might now accuse me of having become a classic film director who does what everybody has been doing for years. But because of my experience, I know that it is legitimate: I know why I used that music. It is more classic, so what? It is not a stereotype, it really touches me.

The Misfortunates Movie Details 🎥

Directed by

Felix van Groeningen

Writing Credits

Felix van Groeningen and Christophe Dirickx (Screenplay)

Dimitri Verhulst (Novel)


Kenneth Vanbaeden

Valentijn Dhaenens

Koen De Graeve

Wouter Hendrickx

Johan Heldenbergh

Bert Haelvoet

Gilda De Bal

Natali Broods

Pauline Grossen

Sofie Palmers

Guy Dermul

Jos Geens

Robbie Cleiren

Sara De Bosschere

Wout Kelchtermans

Yves Degryse

Lynn Van Royen

Charlotte Vandermeersch

Ehsan Hemat

Sachli Gholamalizad

Katrien Deklerq

Sten Van Gestel

Music by

Jef Neve

Cinematography by

Ruben Impens

Genres: Comedy, Drama

Countries: Belgium, Netherlands

The Misfortunates Official Trailer

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