“This No Land” – Alexander Decommere

An old cowboy ‘Grandpa Sudoku’ (Patrick Pevenage) leaves on a trip to Disneyland with the 6 year old Laura (Lisa Lelieur). When  they stop at a gas station, they bump into two couples, who each have their own reason to make the same stop.

This synopsis shortly introduces Alexander Decommere’s western short film (surreal western to be precise) This No Land that made the selection for the Flemish Fiction Competition at the International Short Film Festival in Leuven this year.

Alexander Decommere, known for his documentaries End Credits (2013), Alaturka (2014) and the 2015 short film Where The Pelican Lands, is an experienced director. This No Land proves this fact. The end result is quite impressive, considering that it is shot in both Belgium and the Spanish desert, and crowdfunded.

This No Land has a top of the bill Flemish cast such as Titus De Voogdt (Cub (2014), King of the Belgians (2016)) & Peter Van den Eede (Dirty Mind (2009), Wasteland (2014) as a classy queer couple. Other names are Robrecht Vanden Thoren (Hasta La Vista (2011) and Anne-Laure Vandeputte.
The film has a steady narrative pace, but the dialogues are rather trivial at times unfortunately. But the acting performances are flawless, which adds up to the final result.

Another asset of the film is the remarkable camera work by Jorge Piquer Rodriguez, who achieved to set the right atmosphere for the genre by using wide establishing shots and a symmetric framing for the dialogues.

In my opinion, the narrative is very action-driven, rather than character-driven, which makes the encounters look coincidental. It took me some time to get the story, but eventually I realised that the entire film was a dream sequence. The end pulls us back in the real world by a dramatic climax. This is where all things fit together, like the pieces of a puzzle. Important elements get explained, like for example why they meet the 2 other couples and who the young girl is. Despite the ‘aha’ experience, the main story plot lacks some backstory though.

To conclude, This No Land is satisfying when it comes to visuals, but the plot line could be made more clear. Although it’s typical for short films to have an open ending, here it is mainly vague and incomprehensible for a mainstream audience. Nonetheless, I sincerely liked the concept and the atmosphere.

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“Silent Campine” – Steffen Geypens

Silent Campine is a 15 minutes drama written and directed by Steffen Geypens and was selected for the Flemish Competition: Fiction at the International Short Film Festival in Leuven.  This short film is his 3rd selection for the Film Festival after Buitenspel (2002) and Zien (2003). As a former historic, Geypens was always fascinated by the American westerns from the 50s, this interest strongly influenced Silent Campine, which can be called a modern spaghetti-western.

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The story goes as follows. A traumatised soldier called Albert (Jurgen Delnaet) and his son Juul (Brecht Dael) go hunting every day in order to survive. They also take care for the sick mother. Every day is a struggle, until there is no way back. Geypens wanted to show a troubled father-son relationship. Albert is very authoritarian and there is a quiet tension between them and the other characters in the film. This tension is visualised by gazes and expressions, and enforced by the dialogues.

It is very remarkable that there are no women in the film. You can only hear the sick mother in the backroom, which emphasises the absence of a mother figure and how it affects the son’s upbringing.

The entire film is shot from Juul’s perspective and how he perceives the men surrounding him as well as how he feels towards his own father. He gets confronted with an inner conflict: will he follow his father’s example or will he push himself off from his authoritarian behaviour?

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By Kris Dewitte

Silent Campine refers to the western genre and more specifically to the film Once upon a Time in the West by Sergio Leone (1968) with the phenomenal Henry Fonda. The references are both on the narrative level as visually. This for example in the well thought-out use of colours, namely the dominance of yellow and brown as well as in the slow shots of the open nature or in the quick montage of the fight scenes.
Another important element in Silent Campine is the soundtrack by Bert Dockx (Dans Dans, Flying Horseman), which captures the atmosphere of the film perfectly. Furthermore, the entire film is really silent, like the title already explains.
To conclude, Silent Campine is an outright clever short film. Steffen Geypens took every single detail into consideration and this is what makes the film so fascinating. I guess that cinephiles who know the western genre and recognise the   elements will love this one even more.

 

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“Ce qui demeure” – Pegah Moemen Attare

Ce qui demeure (‘What remains’) is a 14 minutes short film by Pegah Moemen Attare and was selected for the Flemish Competition: Fiction at the International Short Film Festival in Leuven. The film is her graduation film for LUCA School of Arts in Brussels and is her very first festival selection, but it is also the one that will offer her acknowledgment as a female director, I’m sure.

Ce qui demeureChloé (Zoé Lejeune) -a woman in her 30’s- visits her hometown after a long time. She peeks inside the old house of her grandparents, until a young girl takes her inside to watch what changed. She is also reunited with her grandfather again after all those years. According to Moemen Attare, the film is “about memories and holding on to little details in order to keep the memories alive”. So for example the recurrent reference to the pear tree in the garden of Chloé’s grandfather. She is holding on to it in order to recall details from her childhood. Also their dialogues have a nostalgic tone.

Ce qui demeure is rather poetic in style, but still accessible. There is a good balance between narrative and visual style. I specifically liked the opening shot  of Chloé walking in a field of flowers. This image caught my attention, because of its aesthetically perfect framing, its symmetry.

Ce qui demeure2The overall atmosphere in the shortfilm is very light, literally and in a figurative sense, by using light wooden details and rays of sunlight for example. This adds tones of frivolity and happiness to the film, as if in a dream.

Although it is typical for a short film to be rather linear in its narrative, I really missed some backstory to it. Let’s say it is pure curiosity from my side. Why did Chloé leave the small village? Who is the little girl that shows her around?…

The modest acting of Zoé Lejeune, along with the nostalgic atmosphere and the balance between visual style and narrative are the main elements that make Ce qui demeure easily accessible and pleasant to watch at the same time.

 

 

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“Saint Hubert” – Jules Comes

Saint Hubert is a thriller short by the Blegian director Jules Comes and was selected for the Flemish Competition: Fiction at the International Shortfilm Festival in Leuven this month, which is his 4th selection after Stadskind (2010), Pelgrim (2011) and Dit Is Ronald (2012).Sain Hubert

During a big police investigation in the oldest nature park in the German-speaking region of Belgium, the police officers meet a local forester called Werner (Wim Opbrouck). He is the protector of the area and he does the best he can to keep intruders distanced. Nonetheless, the confrontation gets out of hand.

Comes describes his latest short as a ‘clash between nature and the modern world’. This can be illustrated by the film’s ending with the forester chasing the police officer (Wouter Hendrickx) on a race track, which in my opinion symbolises the clash between nature and the modern society, where Werner is the one who loses his power.

Comes casted some of Flanders’s best actors with Wim Opbrouck. The role of German forester suits him to a tee. Maybe this is because of his posture including his natural woodchopper-beard. But what amazes most is the fact that he talks German throughout the entire film. In another life, I used to work as a German teacher, so I must say you can tell that German is not Opbrouck’s mother tongue, nonetheless, the result is quite flawless. And actually, it just proves Opbrouck’s capacities as an actor.

According to Comes Saint Hubert is a “combination between the nature documentaries by David Attenborough and a Rambo-film”. Funny enough, this is exactly how I perceived his film while watching it. The visuals of nature are wild and pure. Cinematographer Grimm Vandekerckhove alternates close-ups and extreme wide shots to show the beauty of untouched nature, where Werner is the lord of the hunt and protector at the same time. Unfortunately, the police officers disturb his peace, and therefore they get hunted by him in a violently psychotic way.Saint Hubert3

The title of the short film refers to the Christian Saint Hubertus, the patron saint of hunters, which declares Werner’s role as the protector of his area. Another remarkable aspect of the film is the thrilling classical music. The music is a very important element to raise the tension, just like in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster (2015). Combined with the montage techniques like slow motion in crucial sequences, Comes succeeds in getting you on the tip of your toes like a real master of suspense.

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“Petit Ami” – Anthony Schatteman

Petit Ami is a short drama film by Anthony Schatteman and is selected for the Flemish Competition: Fiction at International Shortfilm Festival Leuven 2017. This is his 4th selection already. Petit Ami is the final piece of a trilogy along with Kus me Zachtjes (2012) en Volg Mij (2015). They all focus on the main character Jasper (Ezra Fieremans), a young boy struggling with the problems of adulthood.

Petit Ami3Petit Ami is set on Christmas Eve in an obscure rendez-vous hotel. Jasper, who is now 20 years old, meets the older and mysterious Vincent (Thomas Ryckewaert). For Jasper this is a date like any other, but then he discovers the secret that Vincent carries with him.

The title refers to the rendez-vous hotel where Jasper and Vincent meet, which in reality is also a rendez-vous hotel in Ghent called ‘Ptietami’.

The use of colours is very interesting in this one, with an emphasis on the pink and blue neon of the rendez-vous hotel, which adds a mainly sexual atmosphere to the film. The cinematography on the other hand symbolises the intimacy between the two men. DOP Ruben Appeltans uses a lot of close-ups and headshots, by which he symbolically creates portraits of Jasper and Vincent, although the audience never really is able to discover what is going on in their minds. When you watched Schatteman’s 2 previous shorts in the trilogy, one is able to apprehend Jasper’s psychology more. (This is a tip ;)!) Personally, I felt like the relationship between the 2 of them went beyond the sexual aspect, moreover, it seemed as if they implicitly acknowledged each other’s emotional presence.

Petit Ami2The film ends with a shot of Jasper looking straight into the camera, which allows us to take a look into his soul. He clearly struggles with becoming an adult and with finding what he’s looking for in life. Jasper is still looking for his own identity, doing this by meeting men and reflecting on himself as a homosexual man. This is never explicitly confirmed in Petit Ami, so let’s say this is my subjective interpretation.

Whoever loves the coming-of-age genre and colourful films should watch Petit Ami. This only takes you 16 minutes of your precious time, which you won’t regret.

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“Out of the Blue, Into the Black” – Alidor Dolfing

Out of the Blue, Into the Black by Alidor Dolfing had its world premiere at the International Shortfilm Festival in Leuven this year, where it was selected in the Flemish Competition: Fiction. No, Alidor Dolfing is not a strange Flemish name, it’s a pseudonym for the director duo Nyk Dekeyser and Mark Bouwmeester. It’s the second time they are selected for IKL after the major success of the absurd short film Wien For Life in 2014 with one of Flander’s favourite actors, Wim Willaert. 

out of the blueThe story is about the sixteen-years-old Flament (Laurens Aneca), who visits a music festival with his best friend Kiwi (Klaas Duyck). After the first night, hanging with Polly (Verona Verbakel), he is hungover and being sick in one of those chemical toilets that we in Belgium call a ‘dixi’. When all of a sudden a heavy storm breaks out, he gets stuck in the toilet and badly injured. Too young to die, he desperately struggles to survive. Flament’s physical survival symbolises adolescence and the struggles of life in becoming an adult. (N. B. Out of the Blue, Into the Black reminded me of the Pukkelpop-storm in Hasselt in 2011, where several people got seriously injured and 5 people died.)

Out of the Blue, Into the Black is a 20 minutes thriller and a so-called one-location drama clearly inspired by Rodrigo Cortés’ Buried (2010) and Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours (2010). Parts of it even reminded me of the infamous toilet-scène in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996). Almost the entire film is shot in a ‘dixi’ toilet, which has a claustrophobic effect. Of course, shooting this asked for some really good editing and visual techniques. You can also tell that Alidor Dolfing opted for several cameras, like smartphone cameras for example, this to add authenticity and credibility to the images as seen through the eyes of the youngsters.

out of the blue2The 3 young actors, who are some unknown faces for the mainstream audience, look pretty experienced and leave a remarkable impression. The acting performances, together with great cinematography by Frederic Van Zandycke  and a smashing soundtrack by the Belgian rock band HEISA, turn Out of the Blue, Into the Black into an unapologetic whirlwind running over you like the fictitious storm that almost killed our main character. All of this in just 20 stunning minutes? It is defintely worth watching.

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“Thelma” – Joachim Trier

!!!SPOILER ALERT!!!

Thelma is a fantasy/ drama film by Joachim Trier, for which he goes back to his roots. His last film Louder Than Bombs (2015) was English, where Thelma is Norwegian again, with a Norwegian cast. The film won the Norwegian Film Critics Award, because it “excels in its distinctly Scandinavion motifs” according to the jury.Thelma2

Joachim Trier’s new feature film tells the story of a young girl going by the name Thelma (Eili Harboe), who grew up in a conservative Christian family and who moves from the countryside to the big city to go to university. As a kid she had a ‘nervous breakdown’, which she seems to have under control now, until she meets Anja (Kaya Wilkins).

After some seizures, Thelma decides to get herself examined. The medical examinations point out that she suffers from psychogenic non-epileptic seizures, which means that her attacks are not neurotic, but psychological. In addition to that, she can make people disappear according to her willing.

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The whole film is dominated by a dark, sinister and cold atmosphere, which is typical for Scandinavian cinema, at times the film’s light is seemingly clinical. Therefore, Trier is one of those talented directors who belongs in our history books on the same page as Thomas Vinterberg (Jagten (2012)), Lasse Hallström (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)), Ruben Östlund (The Square (2017)) and Lars Von Trier (Melancholia (2011)). Trier manages to visualise the symbolism in his film by the use of perspectives and mise-en-scène. So for example, the opening and closing shots, which portray Thelma in the crowd to point at the fact that she tries and succeeds to fit in with normal people despite her ‘powers’. To conclude, the narrative and visual style are in perfect balance and well-considered.

Thelma’s supernatural powers add a horror-/fantasy-aspect to the film, although I definitely consider Thelma a drama with a touch of coming-of-age. Normally, I’m not into fantasy films, especially the supernatural can’t tempt me. But what convinced me to like this film is that all acting performances are modest and most credible. Trier shows us normal human relationships involving the fear of losing control, of letting go and the fear of an uncontrollable desire for someone, which makes the whole much easier to identify with.

Thelma will be released in Belgium in November 2017.

“You Were Never Really Here” – Lynne Ramsay

You Were Never Really Here by the female director Lynne Ramsay is definitely my kind of film. A strong narrative combined with a cool soundtrack and dazzling visuals. It is an action-driven thriller, with a strong human touch thanks to the modest and natural acting performance by Joaquin Phoenix. The film premiered at the 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival this year in May, resulting in 2 awards for Best Screenplay and Best Actor.

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You Were Never Really Here stars Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line (2005), I’m Still Here (2011),…) as the traumatised and tormented war veteran Joe, who now works to save women from sex traffickers until he gets involved in the corrupt rescue mission of the young Nina Votto (Ekatarina Samsona). The story is based on Jonathan Ames’ novella of the same name.

You Were Never Really Here is a rather short film of only 85 minutes, where the average duration of a feature film is around 120 minutes. The short duration is perfect for the narration though. It keeps the dialogues and the action interesting and avoids the audience to become distracted by too many subplots.

The score for You Were Never Really Here is one of the elements that makes the film so hypnotising, which is composed by Jonny Greenwood. You might know him as the guitarist of Radiohead. Ramsay and Greenwood already collaborated on her last feature film We Need To Talk About Kevin in 2011. This time, the score for You Were Never Really Here has the potential to become equally epic as Kavinsky’s “Nightcall” as the score for Drive. 

When it comes to the visuals, Ramsay and her cinematographer Thomas Townend (who shot videoclips for The Killers and Adele) go for an ambitious, almost eclectic style. The different kinds of framing and perspectives alternate at a high pace, which makes the whole a bit overwhelming, but this matches the tension and the action-driven narration. The film is mainly shot at night, which adds up to the dark atmosphere as well.

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International press already pointed at the fact that the film looks familiar as if it’s a revisitation of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) combined with the cool of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011) and Quentin Tarantino’s sadism (you could easily compare with Reservoir Dogs (1992)).Nonetheless, the plot twist in You Were Never Really Here is simply genius, which I won’t spoil. Therefore, you should just go and watch it yourself.

You Were Never Really Here will be released in Belgium on November 15th.

 

“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” – Yorgos Lanthimos

The Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos presents his new film The Killingof a Sacred Deer only 2 year after the major success of The Lobster (2015). Just like The Lobster, this new feature film is an almost absurd overall experience, definitely deserving its award for Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival this year.

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Steven (Colin Farrell) is an intelligent cardiologist, who takes the teenage Martin (Barry Keoghan) under his wing after the boy’s father died in surgery. Things turn sinister when Martin blames him for killing his father. Martin gradually disorders Steven’s family life until only one solution is left: an unimaginable sacrifice.

The film is very accessible, because it’s full of ordinary and light dialogues, like for example the opening scene where Steven and his colleague discuss where to buy watches. But still these dialogues remain consistent and straight-out witty at times. The scenario is extremely strong, without any superfluous scenes. Even these seemingly clueless dialogues make the whole more absorbing and relatable.

It’s the second time after The Lobster that Lanthimos casted Farrell in the leading role. His wife Anna in this film is performed by  Nicole Kidman. I’m not usually a big fan of hers, but she fits the role perfectly. Steven and Anna have two kids together Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic) and they live a peaceful and wealthy life. Although, you might wonder whether the family knows human emotions or the rules of pragmatics, because how they communicate can be considered apathic. Their reaction to dramatic events is a bit too ‘cool’, where a normal human being would freak out. This is clearly one of Lanthimos’ directing strategies.  Their acting-cool works distancing, but simultaneously intriguing. Barry Keoghan, who is known for his role in Nolan’s Dunkirkplays the creepy Martin, who plays an horribly sadistic eye for an eye-game. All of this gets combined with abombastic classical soundtrack, that sometimes is even overrules the dialogues, which gives them the extra punch.

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The film is full of explicit, but symbolic visuals, like the sequence of a beating heart at the very beginning. This is 1 full minute focus on an open chest and is a metaphoric way to introduce our protagonist the cardiologist,the one who has the life of others in his hands. I wonder whether mainstream audience will understand such content, but I think it’s quite genius.

 

After watching, I left the theatre with an immense ‘what the fuck’-feeling. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a psychological horror, a revenge-story. Those who liked The Lobster will think of it as finger-licking-good. But just like his last film, it’s a matter of love it or hate it. You know what you see is not real, and can’t possibly become real, but still you feel so involved. And that’s the Lanthimos-magic.

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer will be released in Belgium on November 1st 2017.

 

“The Square” – Ruben Östlund

!!!SPOILER ALERT!!!

After Turist (2014), I didn’t think the Swedish director Ruben Östlund could come up with anything more challenging for his audience, but his latest satirical drama The Square is even more poignant. It dares us to question our moral values and sense of community. The Square definitely is one of 2017’s favourites after winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May and several other awards and nominations.

The Square

The Square tells the story of the charismatic Christian (Claes Bang), a curator at a contemporary arts museum. He is a divorced father of 2 daughters, drives a Tesla and seems to be a respectful man supporting good causes. His next exposition is ‘The Square’, an initiative to invite passers-by to meditate on their responsibility as a human being and a part of society. But Christian fails to maintain the ideals himself after he gets robbed. His response to the theft is so foolish that he gets dragged in awkward and sometimes immoral situations. In the meantime, the campaign for ‘The Square’ puts him and the museum in a critical position.

The film has a duration of 142 minutes, which is quite long, but it never feels that way while watching. Personally, I was pleased with the extremely strong scenario written by Östlund himself. It contains poignant dialogues, which are not too heavy, but light and accessible. They have a natural flow, which keeps you attentive at all times. Östlund even creates moments of pure identification or catharsis. Like for example when Christian has a one night stand with the pushy journalist Anne (Elisabeth Moss, known for the popular series Mad Men and Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise), which results in one of the most awkward, but hilarious scenes I’ve ever seen. Even afterwards when she questions whether the physical has emotional consequences, you can simply feel the awkwardness coming out of the screen.

Even how absurd or extreme the situation gets, Östlund never loses touch with the visual aesthetics. His cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel, who he also worked with on Turist, manages to captivate you and drag you into the narrative. The framing is exquisite as if you’re looking at separate photographs; the establishing shots, the close-ups,… all look like pictures in an art book. To conclude, The Square is almost flawless with its cinematography and light perfectly tuned.

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Östlund manages to hit the soft spot by pointing his audience at our increasingly uncertain world and the matter of egocentricity when human relationships become more and more slight. Along with its strong visuals and thumping soundtrack, The Square is a skilful and in your face-kind of film, worth winning the Palme d’Or.

The Square will be released in Belgium on November 22.

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