Reviews Short Documentary

Purple, Pink and Sand (2020) – 2.5 stars

Director: Remko Dekker

Writer: Remko Dekker

Running time: 37mins

Being a painter in today’s world is possibly more challenging than ever, with many questioning the very relevance of the profession. Renowned artist Simon Ling is among those who has made it as a painter in contemporary times, and he is the first to admit that many questioned the relevance of painting while he was still a student. But he, much like other painters, took inspiration from those before him to press on with his passion.

Ling realised that he wanted to show people how he saw the world, and how he saw himself in it. “You should stick with what you are interested in and screw everybody else,” he once said, and the two transient artists in Purple, Pink and Sand appear to live by the same principle.

In terms of their work, the pair can portray the beauty of the natural, and find beauty in the industrial – but this does not necessarily pay well. It is perhaps an occupational hazard as a painter that your work is quite often of more value once you cease to exist. Illustrious examples of this include Dutchmen Vincent van Gogh and Johannes Vermeer; and Dutch filmmaker Remko Dekker certainly seems to suggest that the subjects of his film may well be headed for a similar fate.

Painting landscapes on their travels and living from sale to sale, the duo lives within limited means – but pleasingly, they seem at peace with this; especially when they are at work. The film depicts various aspects of an artist’s life, from the mundanities of transporting canvases and equipment from one spot to the next, to the varying treatment that they receive from society.

The meticulous treatment of the painters’ process allowed me to quickly get acquainted with the two characters: one more worldly, polished, calm and sociable, the other more quiet, cheeky and prone to stripping down and taking a dip in any natural body of water that the duo happens to be painting. Meanwhile, the film further reeled me in with a scene of the pair painting a harbour at night. Immediately, this shows the dichotomous treatment of these painters; some bystanders huddle around them and watch them construct a thing of beauty, while an uppity elder gentleman tells them off for splashing paint on the curb.

Each new painting is fittingly accompanied by some beautiful camera-work, managing to encapsulate both the marvellous work of the artists, and the natural vistas inspiring it, in a single shot. Beyond its professional construction and interesting subject, however, the film falters when it comes to its content’s grander meaning. The problem with the movie is that it’s decidedly flat. While fascinating to the point where I learnt about the lifestyle and painting process of two painters, that is where the value appears to end – and it struggles to justify it’s rather flabby 37-minute run-time as a result.

Documentaries often have a purpose – a message that they’re trying to convey, or even a linear storyline. The risk of this is that they can be heavy-handed with the exposition of their narrative, and this over-zealous spoon-feeding of ideas leaves audiences feeling patronised, while allowing little room for interpretation. Purple, Pink and Sand has another problem altogether though.

Dekker’s film starts one story, moves into another, and concludes all of them in a rather unsatisfactory manner. This scatter-brained editorial process left me wondering what it was all in aid of – something which should never be the case at the end of a documentary – especially one which is not far off being feature-length.

The experiences of the two painters (later joined by a female companion) are interesting, but not enough to be the very central point of the film. At various points, elements of discussion come up and fizzle out almost immediately. These include the treatment of artists in society; the nationality of the two artists and how that affects the way in which they’re treated; and the financial struggles that an artist can navigate. All of these elements are sadly handled with a casual indifference.

None of the discussions are taken forward, and certainly they are not resolved. Instead, we are taken through 26 paintings, and not left with little food for thought at the end. No amount of cinematic sheen and polished camera-work can make up for that.

Add to this the fact that the film lacks context as to where it is situated (aside from the fact that some people speak Russian, while others have to be spoken to in English, adding to the confusion), and Purple, Pink and Sand comes across as a documentary with precious little to say. It’s magnetic subjects could be used to engage us, and perhaps a feature that would take their story to its conclusion would have been more satisfying to watch, but this particular finished product reveals little about their journey, beyond a small period in time.

While Dekker’s practical filmmaking skills can be applauded, the core of his film could have been significantly stronger. Purple, Pink and Sand is a film about a topic which can capture the imagination of almost everyone; the problem is that it does not contain much in the way of insight to maintain that initial interest. The characters are affable and interesting, but their story could have been given a clearer voice, and there is little context and substance to the events on screen.

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