Director: Jasmijn Schrofer
Running time: 23mins
Normally I’m a bit of a party-pooper – I couldn’t stand clubbing even when I was young enough to go – but maybe I’ve mellowed in my old age, as it seems quite fitting to me that the 100th review of an independent film on Indy Film Library centres on a rip-roaring party. More specifically, I should say, a multi-day After party, where the revellers push their physical and mental boundaries over a sleepless weekend of copious drug taking.
Jasmijn Schrofer’s fly-on-the-wall documentary After dives head-first into the hedonistic party-life of wandering young adults in Amsterdam, without being sensationalist, or uncritical of the lifestyles it depicts. It is a commendable juggling act, which manages to address the lighter and darker sides of the normalised drug use that is common-place for the majority of young people all over the world – not just Amsterdam – while avoiding a judgemental narrative tone, or a hand-wringing “Won’t somebody please think of the children?” approach, implying tightening drug laws to protect them from themselves would do any good.
The group welcomes the camera into their midst, without overtly playing up to its presence, and we are subsequently party to the ups and downs, the rises in activity and the lulls that come as part of a seemingly endless gathering. In this accepting environment, Director of Photography Nina Badoux’s cinematography is able to thrive, and makes it easy to see why the people present have been attracted to this setting – the gorgeous colour palettes softly illuminating the darkened house, and the steady bass of an electronic playlist providing a warm and secure environment for them; a fluorescent womb inside which they can laugh and argue with complete strangers, question their outside lives, and perhaps most importantly of all, dare to be emotionally vulnerable around other human beings.
At the same time, there is an undertone of deep sadness which ebbs and flows throughout After, coming to the fore in the quiet moments – reflecting one party-goers admission that sooner or later, the attendees will have to face the thought, “What am I doing?” While in the moment, it feels good to let go of your inhibitions, to feel free and emboldened, eventually you have to face up to the fact that those feelings are measured against something else. What are you feeling free from? Why don’t you usually feel socially emboldened without the use of drugs? How have you come to carry these inhibitions you are escaping from in the first place? The answer is possibly provided in a lucid moment late in the film, by a man in his early 20s.
He melancholically states, “Perhaps we have organised our society incorrectly, if we work 70 hour week, and then have to take drugs to muster the strength for a social life.”
With your whole working life ahead of you, having come through a tightly drilled schooling system, where you have been poked, prodded, assessed and harassed into an amorphous, paranoid bundle of nerves employers will find most useful, drugs are probably the only way you can find the courage to feel remotely human come the weekend. With many of the party-goers staring down the barrel of this gun, admitting that they are increasingly looking for some sense of security in a world which has been retooled to giving them as little as possible – for example, the gig economy they are expected to find work in now offers up record ‘employment,’ but also minimises any chance of demanding better pay and conditions – it is a wonder they are not in a worse state of chemical dependence than they seem to be.
As the party concludes, we are left to wonder what awaits the vibrant and intriguing guests we have spent the last few days with. One believes he knows; with the spontaneity of the party becoming routine, as the same tired faces look to relive their earlier escapism, like so many increasingly weary generations of drinkers before them. The drug of choice might change, but the suit, tie, career, and utter death of youthful hopes and dreams are very much the same.
It is hard to argue with that blunt assessment – unless society entirely re-engineers itself to be something other than a ceaseless conveyor belt which provides the ceaseless grinder of capitalism with fresh meat. In the meantime, who’s up for another tab?
Schrofer’s light-touch approach has yielded some incredibly affecting insights into the paradox of late adolescence; of exuberant and energetic parties and hopes of examining and challenging the world, coupled with the encroaching dread that comes with finding yourself on the precipice of adult work. The kids are not alright, and it’s time we started looking at why, rather than belittling or policing the symptoms of that.