“The Belgian Wave”


Screened at the 2024 Gene Siskel Film Center Chicago European Union Film Festival (3.5/5); Letterboxd (3.5/5), Imdb.com (7/10), TMDB.com (3.5/5)

In 1989-90, the skies over Belgium were filled with unidentified flying objects on an ongoing basis, prompting the incident to become known as “the Belgian UFO wave.” Not long after it began, journalist Marc Vaerenbergh (Dominique Rongvaux) began investigating the event in depth, speaking with countless civilian and military witnesses. He stayed on the story until he suddenly and mysteriously vanished (presumably for knowing too much), a disappearance that was never officially solved. Thirty years later, however, a pair of amateur sleuths – including Marc’s drugged-out godson (Karim Barras) and an actress/would-be journalist (Karen De Paduwa) – seek to reopen the case to find out what actually happened. The result is a wacky, wild, trippy, substance-laced road trip tale that includes interactions with a cloning/alien hybrid cult, secret military operations, Marc’s spaced-out former girlfriend, the reporter’s onetime peers and other assorted colorful characters. The story is told through a polished amalgamation of contemporary footage, surreal sequences and simulated archive/found footage reels, beautifully shot in vibrant colors and expertly edited to sustain pacing, maintain interest and keep viewers guessing about what’s coming next. The narrative seamlessly incorporates hefty doses of off-the-wall humor, much of it visual and much of it seeming to come from out of left field but that nearly always successfully manages to logically tie back to the main storyline. Collectively, these elements make for a sidesplitting, fun-filled flick reminiscent of sci-fi/drug-induced cult favorites like “Liquid Sky” (1982), enjoyable from its outrageous start to its even more outrageous finish. My only criticism here is that the film tends to get a little too self-indulgent with its sense of off-the-wall and macabre antics the further one gets into the story, but, in light of everything that writer-director Jérôme Vandewattyne manages to get right, that’s a rather minor shortcoming in the overall scheme of things. “The Belgian Wave” is a picture one will not readily forget, especially if viewed with suitable “enhancement” (wink) on a big screen with a great sound system. To quote the Grateful Dead, after watching this one, you’re likely to walk out of the theater and say to yourself, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” Indeed.