"Allez, Eddy!" (Come on, Eddy!) is a film that tugs at the heart.
What appears to be a story about Freddy, an 11-year-old Belgian boy in love with famed Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx, a cyclist who is widely considered in the cycling world to be one of the greatest pro-cyclists ever, winning races such as the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia and the International Cycling Union World Championship several times each.
Comically, the town shuts down every time Merckx races — all the fathers gather at the local pub, and boys like Freddy listen on the radio.
In the film, Merckx serves as the distant hero to Freddy, the son of a butcher.
When Freddy receives a necklace from his aunt, he removes the letters F and R so he could hold part of his hero's namesake.
However, Freddy's issues with incontinence creates an odd dependence on his mother,
confining him to the family's attic, isolated from the outside world. He lives in a world where stories told during bathtime haunt him, and create a fear of the outside.
But when a new supermarket comes to their small town, changes in the community force the family to change their ways.
Freddy's father refers to the supermarket as an evil place — where "the sausages are next to the underwear" — that would crush their family business.
Freddy, though, is wooed by the daughter of the supermarket manager, and decides to compete in the supermarket's grand opening bicycle race — the prize is to meet Merckx himself in France.
His participation and ultimate victory in the race symbolically brings change to him and his family. It not only makes him confront his isolation at home, but also the distant relationship between him and his father. By the end of the film, his father not only accepts the supermarket, but also loves his cyclist son.
"I wanted the film, visually and emotionally, to start out with two sons with two different parents — a red-haired boy with his red-haired mother, and a black-haired boy with his black-haired father — and to have them switch by the end the movie," said film director Gert Embrechts during a Q-and-A following Thursday night's Cinequest screening.
The film is nearly period-accurate to the 1970s, and was shot in just 38 days on a budget of $20 million in Belgium and Luxembourg.
"We had over 5,000 boys try out to be Eddy," Embrechts said, noting they shot it during the school's summer vacation period. "It was so hard to get it down to just one."
While the film depicts just four kids — the two sons and two additional daughters — it reflects the personae of many more children.
"I grew up in a family of 10 children," he said. "We had to fight to get attention. There's definitely some reflection of myself in the character."
The story of a young boy trying to make his personal dream and figure out how to sort his family plays only as a one storyline, Embrechts said. It also addresses the need to deal with large industrial changes in small towns like the one he is from in Belgium.
"It's the small world colliding with the large world," he said.
Embrechts said the film intentionally highlighted the need to change in a small town. The supermarket sells color television sets at lower prices, whereas the family butcher shop has dwindling customers and a black-and-white TV.
"We all used to gather around TV sets to watch Merckx," he said. "Cycling is such a big deal for us in Belgium, and he is the center of our world."
But again, the beauty of this low-budget film is not the cycling — in fact, that's the smallest part. What's beautiful is a family's struggle, development of real love and adaptation to new changes in a community, through the direct relationship of a father and his little son.
"What the film shows you in an hour took me 30 years to learn with my father," Embrechts said.
One screening of this film is left — Saturday, March 9 at 6:30 p.m. at Camera 12.