Directed by: Lennart Stuyck, Ruben Vermeersch | 54 minutes | documentary, music | With: Eric Kabongo
“Just because you have a lot of bling doesn’t mean you’re really worth a penny.” These are the words of Eric Kabongo, a young Belgian of Congolese descent who is pursuing his big dream. He would like to make a career as a rapper under his pseudonym Krazy-E, but that is not really easy for him. Eric’s dream comes into conflict with harsh reality and a past that haunts him. Two recently graduated Belgian filmmakers, Lennart Struyck and Ruben Vermeersch, get into the head of this barrel of gunpowder in their documentary “What about Eric” (2014), whose frustrations can turn into anger and aggression in just a few moments.
Where that anger comes from is clear. Eric has been through rough times. His mother (or at least the woman he considered his mother) died when he was very young and from that moment on he felt the responsibility for his younger brother and sister. But he has also worked with a con man and he has had to deal with poverty from an early age. The anecdote in which he tells that in the past as a school-age boy he never got new shoes – simply because there was no money to provide all the children in the family with new footwear – and that he stole the latest Nikes from a classmate. But even now he has not yet gotten rid of his money problem. Every minute he does not spend on his music career, he spends in his disconsolate apartment paying overdue bills and brushing off intrusive bailiffs.
But the biggest problem this aspiring rapper faced and has faced is racism. For example, he has already served a three-year suspended sentence after he attacked the neighbor. This would have hit his younger brother and Eric did not accept that. The camera also records a confronting fragment in which Eric feels unfairly treated because of his skin color. His blood still boils when he talks about the injustice that was done to him at the time. During the traditional horse competitions in his hometown Waregem, where Eric and his friends come out classically stylish with checkered jackets, ties, bows and hats, our anti-hero gets the comment from a drunk man ‘Return to where you come from’ to hurled his head. We cannot get a clearer picture of how quickly something can break for Eric, because he loses it in no time. But contrary to what you might expect, it’s not that punch itself, but the conversation that Eric and his friends have in the car on the way home afterwards is what sticks with you.
“What about Eric?” Lasts only 54 minutes, but in that tight hour manages to paint a clear picture of a boy with big dreams, who encounters almost inevitable obstacles. For a moment there is hope when his publicist enthusiastically offers his single to the major radio stations and an appealing video clip can be played with a small budget. Positive developments that ensure that Eric only makes more plans for the future. But when it turns out that the major radio stations do not want to play his record because he raps in French – apparently the successes of Stromae have already been forgotten – he is thrown back considerably in his crusade for fame and recognition. But this boy has already shown that he has a lot of resilience. Krazy-E does not just let himself be discouraged. The young filmmakers are excellent with their documentary, in which they show the fragments criss-cross through each other and there is no real structure, but in which they are close to their subject and in which they, with a few inventive shots (the car wash) show that they have a lot of talent.