"Aaltra" was something of a sleeper at the 2005 London Film Festival, poorly attended for the first showing and packed for the second once word got round.
It's a two-man-band of a movie, being written and directed by, and starring, two French comedians, Benoit Delepine and Gustave de Kervern. It's also a homage to the Finnish director, Aki Kaurismaki, being shot in Black & White (in Belgium) in the same deadpan style, with the same use of long shot and the same slow burn sense of humour and affection for losers. Kaurismaki himself makes a guest appearance in the final section of the film, set in Finland.
The plot starts with the archetypes of town vs. country. None of the characters are given names. A harassed commuting businessman (Delepine) has been skyving by working from home, but is called to a meeting on threat of losing his job. His way is blocked by his mortal enemy, the countryman who lives opposite (de Kervern), driving his tractor at a snail's pace and spraying poisonous chemicals all over the townie's garden. The job is lost, and so Delepine returns home early, only to find his wife having sex with another man. In a rage he searches out the farm hand....
When they both come to, they have both been seriously injured and will be using wheelchairs for the rest of their lives. The two enemies are reluctantly forced into alliance by their situation and the hostility they face towards "cripples" (as they are called by other characters). "Aaltra" then turns into an eccentric road movie, as they make their way in their chairs first to Namur for the MotoCross which the Townie loves, and after across Europe to Finland in an effort to get compensation for their accidents from Aaltra, the manufacturer of the farm machinery which crushed them.
The other great influence on the film is Jacques Tati, because it is full of absurd images, often in long shot, which become funnier the longer they are dwelt on. Like Tati, the directors know the value of taking their time to set up and resolve a gag. The humour is visual, and also humour of situation, not verbal.
What makes this so refreshing as a film is that there is no condescension towards the main characters, who are both just as unlikeable once they become disabled as they were before. They rob, cheat, lie, threaten to get what they want, their only excuse being that they can't get it any other way. When other characters are hostile, they get revenge; when other characters are friendly or show sympathy, they abuse good nature by eating everything in sight, getting drunk, stealing a valuable motorbike and trashing it, etc.
This is the favourite film of several of my.disabled friends, because it asks for and gives no quarter. It will also make you laugh out loud in several places. If I drop it one star, it is because sometimes it is just a tad too slow for its own good.