Any Way The Wind Blows

Any Way The Wind Blows (2003)

Any Way The Wind Blows first published by Film4

Summary: Belgian musician Tom Barman’s feature debut is a multi-grained slice of Antwerp life set over 36 hours.

Review: In 1999, the year that saw the release of P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia, Tom Barman decided to take time out from fronting the Belgian rock band dEUS, in order to write the screenplay for his feature debut. The timing is hardly a coincidence, for with its multiple characters, criss-crossing storylines, fateful confluences and occasional bursts of the irrational, all choreographed to a closely integrated score, Any Way the Wind Blows owes a considerable debt to Anderson’s film, and acknowledges that debt by including J.J. Cale’s Magnolia in the eclectic mix of songs that makes up its soundtrack. 

What makes Any Way the Wind Blows stand out, however, from Magnolia and other slice-of-life films (13 Conversations About One Thing, Crash, Me and You and Everyone We Know, Look Both Ways) is its breezy energy, as well as a refreshing refusal on Barman’s part to bring his characters’ crises to anything like a neat resolution. Here a motley ensemble is shown constantly on the move, emerging from barely glimpsed pasts to unite at a carnivalesque party, before heading off into darkly hinted futures – and viewers are left no wiser as to whether they have witnessed a messianic miracle, the end of the world, or just another ordinary day in Belgium. 

Antwerp, a Friday in June. After being hit full in the face by an errant frisbee, single father Walter (Frank Vercruyssen) loses his beloved projectionist’s job under suspicious circumstances, while his restless ex Lara (Diane de Belder) flirts with everybody and dreams of settling into responsibility. Stuffy middle-aged novelist-cum-teacher Paul (Eric Kloeck) feels as though his life ended long ago. Irascible, Eighties-obsessed billposter Frédérique (Jonas Boel) and his loose-bowelled sidekick Felix (Titus de Voogdt) half jokingly plan an anarchist raid on a police building’s canteen. 

Meanwhile cynical, womanising gallery owner Firmin (Dirk Roofthooft) gets nostalgic about a past love and is haunted by the ghost of Andy Warhol. Chouki (Matthias Schoenaerts) plans to make a bold artistic statement using a bacteria sample pilfered from the Institute for Tropical Medicine, while his disheartened sister Natalie (Natali Broods) frets about her relationship with Walter and prepares for a party to which everyone will come that evening – even the mysterious Windman (Sam Louwyck), who has just blown into town with an unusual power and a need to dance.

Mixing Dutch with French and English, professional with non-professional actors, jazz with techno, the young with the not-so-young, philosophy and art criticism with drugs and delinquency, naturalism with surrealism, and light comedy with apocalyptic tragedy, Any Way the Wind Blows defies easy categorisation. Sprawling, episodic, and just the right side of pretentious, it makes up for its bold lack of conventional narrative (let alone conclusion) with a string of finely observed, vaguely interconnected vignettes that all add up to something as fugitive and phantasmagorical as life itself, in all its loves, fears and dreams. 

Performed with conviction and directed with verve, Any Way the Wind Blows rates as one of the most mature and ambitious debuts in years, wafting in a great new talent for Belgium’s cinema scene.

Verdict: Tom Barman’s vital ode to Antwerp offers not so much a slice of life as the whole loaf, cut thin but sharp.

Anton Bitel