Posts Tagged ‘Dutch indie’

Instinct (2019) Locarno Film Festival 2019

Dir: Halina Reijn | Cast: Carice van Houten, Marwan Kenzari, Betty Schuurman, Marie-Mae van Zuilen, Pieter Embrechts, Ariane Schluter, Maria Kraakman, Tamar van den Dop, Robert de Hoog, Juda Goslinga | Holland, Psychodrama 103′

In this vicious prison drama a hospital psychiatrist and a violent rapist score points off each other – but who is chasing whom? Not an original idea but a brilliant riff on sexual in a film holds you in its uncomfortable grasp and positively radiates their palpable chemistry right through to the fizzing finale. But crucially there is nothing titillating about what happens between them and many will find what happens between them difficult to watch.

In her debut the Dutch theatre actor turned director takes on a tricky theme – and it doesn’t always work out. Although we are led to believe that Nicoline has fallen for Idris (Kenzari), clearly the feelings are mutual, and the criminal has had a lifetime to hone his abusive skills, but animal attraction shoots from the hip, rather than the intellect.

It all kicks off when Nicoline (van Houten), a rather blasé prison therapist at the top of her game, arrives at the squeaky clean seaside internment centre to deal with the transitional parole of a convicted sex offender. Although she’s keen to get on with the assignment, you get the impression there is a void in her personal life: during the induction interview her gaze drifts off in the direction of a travel poster. Clearly she’s looking for something beyond her work – but what?

Sexual sparks fly when she meets her patient Idris. Maintaining a professional approach is clearly going to be difficult in the face of this potent attraction. It doesn’t help that her only bedfellow is her mother (Schurmann), who insists on sleeping with her when she stays over in the luxury flat Nicoline occupies alone. She’s a bit too touchy feely for comfort.

Idris (Kenzari) is a mercurial character, his cheeky grin belying a nasty temper. And Nicoline tunes into this and disagrees with the other staff about the merit of his impending release back into the community. In the stark and clinical rooms where the patient and doctor meet, Reijn relies on body language and atmosphere rather than dialogue to drive the intriguing narrative forward. But what little dialogue there is – crafted by writer Esther Gerritsen – works well. And Idris’ lines expertly written lines also convey the psychological buttons he is used to pushing to get the right reactions from Nicoline. Clearly he wants her, but he wants to punish her too, and his machievellian style is learned behaviour from childhood. We find out nothing of his past, or the exact nature of his crimes, Reijn focusing on the here and now in this intimately-drawn games of wits and wiles.

Kenzari has an easier role than van Houten and he plays it convincingly. For her, it’s more of a complex role, and one that requires a great deal of subtlety, yet the subtext of her emotional arc is easy to understand. She needs to internalise her feelings, yet keep them brewing under the surface, and van Houten does this with instinct. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | VARIETY PIAZZA GRANDE AWARD

 

Hellhole (2019) **** Berlinale 2019

Dir.: Bas Devos; Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Willy Thomas, Hamza Belarbi, Lubna Azabal, Mieke de Grotte; Belgium/Netherlands 2019, 87 min.

Bas Devos is back with another hybrid feature, a vision of urban anxiety and alienation. The feature works as an installation where actors represent Brussels’ lost souls, very much like his 2014 Berlinale winner Violet. 

Inspired by the Brussels’ subway bombings of March 2016 Devos shows us a world out of synch. Often the images break down totally: we get a black screen. Other intervals include long shots of the skies. We watch young immigrants from the Middle East, at school and playing football. “Brussels is called the Jihadi capital of Europe. It would be better to bombard us”. One of the youngsters is Mehdi (Belarbi). He lives with his parents and two younger siblings on a council estate. His older black sheep of the family Ahmed Ahmed puts him in a no-win situation: stealing their grandmother’s jewellery, so he can pay his debts. Mehdi resists. Another bewildered soul Samira (Azabal) makes the only spoken statement of the entire feature the rest are elliptical images: “Violence for me used to be pixels on TV, now I can feel that I can touch it”.  

Meanwhile, Wannes is in a permanent state of angst, unable to get hold of his son Boris, a fighter pilot stationed in the Middle East. He tries to reach him via Skype, but the connection always breaks down. In the Mall, the brutalist architecture and cement walls close in on the shoppers creating a claustrophobic hell. Wannes has a sister, Els (de Grotte), whose husband is dying. The doctor alleviates his last hours of life. The siblings share an unspoken closeness. But closer still is his German Shepherd, who sleeps on his bed. 

Alba (Rohrwacher) is convincing as a vulnerable woman with an eating disorder. Working as a translator with the EU, she is having a break from her fiancée who lives in Rome. Alba picks up a one-night stand on a strobe-lighted dance floor, and sends him away after sex. She knows her fiancée will do the same. When she has faints at work, the fear of something sinister leads her to ask Wannes for advice, but is not convinced she has brain tumour. “The internet says so”. 

It turns out that Mehdi couldn’t find the jewellery – or at least that’s what he tells Ahmed in the Mall. He sits down depressed as two armed soldiers tell him to “keep his backpack close to his body”. At the end Wannes gets a long message from Boris explaining his job: “All images are stored and filed away. There is nothing more to it”. The camera circles a fight plane, like a commercial.

Hellhole unfurls in the city’s drab interiors. Often we get still photos – humans, seem secondary, mostly talking behind glass, in disjointed conversations. Breath-taking and original, Hellhole is like the portrait of a space station, run by aliens, as humans become more and more impersonal. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019

 

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