A businessman (Benoît Delépine) has been working from home these past couple of months, but his bosses are sceptical about exactly how much he has been doing. Similarly, a farmhand (Gustave de Kervern) is criticised by his boss for being lazy and not doing as he's told, especially now as the crops are being harvested. These two men, who live across the road from each other, manage to annoy each other deeply what with the businessman's riding his motor-cross bike around the area and keeping the farmhand awake, and the farmhand cropspraying and driving his huge truck in the way of the businessman's vehicle. Today, it's the final straw for the businessman when the farmhand's obstruction stops him catching his train into Paris and keeping his job, and when he goes back home he finds his wife, who is desperate for a baby, going about getting one with another man. But what happens next will damn both antagonists to be together...
It's not much of a surprise when Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki appears at the end of Aaltra, as this film is obviously conceived in the image of that man's works with its deadpan comedy and depressing settings. If you've ever seen the excellent documentary Murderball, you'll know that screen depictions of wheelchair users were beginning to catch up with reality in the 2000s, and although the two disabled men here are nowhere as admirable as the ones in that film, they do show that just because you've been handicapped in some way, it doesn't necessarily mean you automatically become noble and worthy of moist-eyed sentimentality.
Indeed, Aaltra makes sure to depict its protagonists as complete arseholes from the start, and could be accused of doing damage to the view of it being rewarding to help the disabled. And therein lies the comedy, which isn't exactly laugh a minute, but does prompt regular chuckles at how despicable these men can be in their hour of need, a situation they have only brought on themselves through their own stupidity. What happens is that the businessman storms out of his house and finds the farmhand, whereupon they both get into an enraged struggle - just as the farm machinery is performing a maneouvre, and thereby sending them both to the hospital and paralysed for the rest of their lives.
The only scene of their feeling sorry for themselves is when they're both lying facing away from each other (naturally, to add insult to injury they have to share the same hospital room), trying to stifle their weeping so the other won't hear. Other than that, they're seriously annoyed at their predicament and are quite happy to make others suffer too, so after a couple of failed suicide attempts they find they have a common mission: get compensation from the manufacturer of the truck that harmed them. As this manufacturer is in Finland, they have long way to go, but undeterred they set off into a succession of scenes exploiting those who stop to help them and being abused by others who steal their cash or otherwise intimidate them. This is a low budget road movie, shot in dingy, grainy black and white for just the right touch of misery, and while it only really has one joke to offer you, its singlemindedness wins out, so it's generally recommended to curmudgeons.