Hop (2002)

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to blow anything up.”

Apparently the salient characteristic of an anarchist is the irrepressible desire to blow things up. Well at least that’s the case in the film Hop from director Dominque Standaert. The story revolves around Justin (Kalomba Mboyi) a twelve-year-old illegal immigrant from Burundi who lives with his father Dieudonne (Ansou Diedhiou) in Belgium. After a minor fracas with the law stemming from a dispute with a neighbour over his cable television line, Dieudonne is arrested, questioned and subsequently deported by police to the Congo. Meanwhile Justin goes on the lam and takes refuge with anarchist Frans Misonne (Jan Decleir).

Frans at first plans to hand the boy right back to the police, but then when his female acquaintance Gerda (Antje de Boeck) objects, Frans allows the boy to stay. When Frans learns that Justin’s father has been deported, he comes up with a plan to negotiate for the father’s return to Belgium. Dreaming up the name, the Anarchistic Pygmy Revolutionary Front, Frans’s plan is to leave a dummy explosive on a monument, threatening to use the real thing if their demands aren’t met.

As the film develops, it’s revealed that Frans served time for an explosion in which three people were killed. Frans, who was the bomb expert in the Pressure Cooker Group, set the bomb and then called in a warning to police. The police however, failed to evacuate the building, and three people were killed. Frans subsequently served time–a remarkably short period of time as it turns out, and this is explained by the skill of Frans’s lawyer.

Frans and Gerda are the only Belgiums willing to help Justin, and while their comradeship is touching, the portrayal of anarchist Frans is problematic. On the one hand, he could have been any old hippie or any old radical, but the necessity of placing dynamite in the plot evidently and preposterously called for the creation of an anarchist. As one of the Pressure Cooker Group, he’s seen as someone who’s responsible for the deaths of three innocent bystanders. He keeps a secret stash of dynamite in his remote home and refuses to clean out his cesspit (an outhouse that serves as a toilet). Furthermore in its portrayal of Frans, the film doesn’t bother to explain any anarchist principles–even though Frans’s house is loaded with piles of books, pamphlets etc. Nor do we ever discover why Frans was running around Belgium with pressure cookers loaded with dynamite in the first place. Also, at the beginning of the film, in spite of the fact that he’s supposed to be an anarchist, his first reaction is to hand over Justin to the “authorities” and it’s only later in the film that he refuses to cooperate with the police–and this is a bit late since he’s already told the police where the boy can be found. Perhaps he cooperates because Justin is running around with a stash of dynamite–although the film doesn’t make the motive behind Frans’s cooperation clear. So we are left with a stereotype complete with the obligatory tendency to violent irresponsible action created for the purposes of the film.

Hop really has some interesting ideas, but the plot is extremely fanciful. The police who arrest Dieudonne are portrayed as rather cruel and deceptive, but later in the film, the Belgium equivalent of a SWAT team, at first rather sinister and threatening, are buffoons when pitted against the savvy 12 year old. Hop is visually a beautiful film, shot digitally in black and white. The plot addresses some serious, timely questions–the morality of allowing immigrants to sneak into the country in order to provide cheap labour, and the ethics of separating a child from a parent. The film’s title refers to a strategic shift of power between various groups, and the plot provides a few stories of how the Hop may be conducted, and then shows by example. Interestingly, it’s Justin’s fellow countrymen who manage to pull a Hop on the Belgium power structure, and this is accomplished in a very sly, slick manner–without explosives. However, the film stoops to the typical obligatory perpetuation of anarchist stereotypes–in this case–heavy on dynamite and out-of-control cesspits.

In Dutch and French with subtitles.

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