«Muscles from Brussels» shows sensitive, comic side
22 May, 2008 By Cindy Martin
CANNES, France (Reuters) Jean-Claude Van Damme, "The Muscles from Brussels" shows an unexpectedly comic and sensitive side in a fictionalized film of his life and troubles that he said had left most of one audience in tears.
"J.C.V.D.", made by French-based director Mabrouk el Mechri, shows Van Damme playing a version of himself as an action star hitting the skids, dealing with insistent fans whose adoration can tip instantly into scorn.
"Jean-Claude Van Damme with no cash!" he cries out in despair after a bank teller looks at him sympathetically but refuses to advance him 650 dollars. "How's that?"
A middle-aged taxi driver squeals out his name when she recognizes the star hunched in the back of her cab only to turn on him when he asks to be left alone. "Oh please, don't come the big movie star with me!" she says derisively.
Belgian-born Van Damme, the kickboxing hero of a hundred low-budget action flicks, said he had tasted the highs and the lows and had come out the other side.
"When I saw the movie, I saw a guy who suffered a lot of his life, which is cool," he told Reuters in an interview at the Cannes film festival where the film is being marketed.
"That's what makes the movie, that guy who came from Belgium with nothing and followed a dream, who was dreaming a dream, maybe a bit crazy, who believed he was a star," he said.
Looking tired and a little care-worn as he sat on the beach at Cannes, Van Damme said the producers were selling the film as a comedy but viewers would see it was more than that.
"You're going to be surprised because it's being promoted this way so people go in," he said.
"They all thought so, all the newspaper reporters, but when they came out...60 percent of the people were weeping, crying, so I think we did something wonderful," he said.
Van Damme shows few illusions about the artistic merit of films such as "Double Impact", "Blood Sport", "Time Cop", or "Hard Target" but he realizes their place just the same.
"I was a money machine," he said. "Anything I touched, low-budget movies, simple scripts, made money and money and money."
His success and the partying that followed eventually pushed him along the well-trodden route that leads to celebrity rehab, only to be abandoned by those he had trusted.
"All those people, friends of mine, agents, lawyers, people who'd made a fortune out of me, nobody came to see me and I said 'What the hell is that?'. I was very disappointed."
Eventually, he battled back to health and decided to bypass Hollywood and tell his story with a European filmmaker.
"I couldn't go to a studio and say, 'Guys I want to do a movie that's about me but not me. I want to give lots of feeling, not like the guy from Blood Sport'," he said. So I came to France and they gave me the chance to do so."
He hopes the film, which is shot in his native French, will be marketed in America and after that, he has more ambitions.
"I want the studios to take me seriously. Before, they were saying 'I can control the guy'. Today, I know what I am. I'm back to my family, back to earth," he said.
(Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by David Fogarty)
Jean-Claude Van Damme