Reviews Short Narrative

Halwende (2019) – 3 stars

Director: Luca Izarin

Writer: Luca Izarin

Cast: Charlie May, Nikita Van der Linden

Running time:  10mins

One of the advantages of cinema over the written word is that it is far easier to present a non-linear narrative, and to escape the inexorable march of time. The creator can believably move around in time and present us with images from a past, a present, and a future in order to suit a grander narrative intent.

This can be particularly effective when the artist is trying to evoke the process of memory. When the memories are ones that surround grieving and loss, they can make for compelling cinema – this is the goal that Luca Izarin sets out to achieve in Halwende, a short meditation on bereavement.

‘Halwende’ did not mean anything to me, prior to watching. I Googled it and, bizarrely the first hit was a baby-names website, which informed me that it means ‘he that is lonely.’ In keeping with this seeming theme of alienation, the film opens with a shot of the eponymous Halwende (Charlie May), a thirty-something white man sitting alone in a bar in the daytime. He makes eye contact with Stella (Nikita van der Linden), a thirty-something white woman – and there seems to be a sexual frisson.

A temporal shift sees the director cut to night-time, and a well-composed scene shot from the top of the stairs, in which Halwende arrives home. We see Halwende, in raincoat and with briefcase (so we know he has been working late) pick up the mail, wearily mount the stairs, and pour himself a drink. The mail is hand-written and reads: Thinking of You in these Difficult Times… This surely means there has been a death and, as this is a short with little time for a plot to unfold, the viewer assumes that it is Stella, the woman from the bar, who has died.

The phone rings constantly and when Halwende finally answers it we hear the voice of a woman from a Free Fall Diving Team who is enquiring after Stella, as the team have not heard from her for a while. Halwende hangs up with a sad expression on his face. We are given a subtle confirmation that it is, indeed, Stella who has died and also a clue as to her personality – risk-taker, extrovert?

Izarin then provides us with a series of scenes, skipping backward and forward in time. We witness the couple of Stella and Halwende eating a meal at home, dining out in a restaurant, the events leading up to Stella’s death, and Halwende back in the restaurant dining alone while the concerned restaurant staff fret over his behaviour. Here, the director is asking us to speculate whether grief has affected Halwende’s state of mind, whether it is a continuation of the earlier scene and Stella has left or Halwende has returned to the restaurant, in memory of happier times, to grieve.

The film concludes with a truly memorable shot, beautifully lit and composed – Stella on a balcony looking back enigmatically to camera – Eurydice about to enter the Underworld. I particularly liked the way the film highlighted the resonance that objects can play during bereavement – it was a nice touch to show the distinctive plaid shirt that Stella wore during the opening scenes hanging on the banister.

The editing and cinematography in Halwende are excellent throughout – the film has a beautiful texture and atmosphere. The generation of mood is helped by the clever choice of prolific soundtrack producer Kevin McCloud’s ambient classic, Danse Morialta, which serves as the main soundtrack theme. May and Van der Linden are meanwhile both personable and engaging actors and put in solid performances.   

The problem I had with the film is to do with its structure, and the self-imposed limitations that the filmmakers gave themselves. During Halwende I felt as though I was watching a beautifully made trailer for a movie, rather than a complete film. Coming in at just over 10 minutes, over one-tenth of the film is taken up with the black void of rolling credits. A fair amount of the movie also features Halwende moving round the house, and this viewer ended up with nowhere to go except facile speculation as to the character’s taste in interior decoration – the dreaded “oh he has one of those expensive made to measure shelving units” type of thoughts.

Under nine minutes of action did not allow the director to develop the characters enough for the viewer to engage with them on much more than this superficial level. Stella and Halwende appear on the evidence to be alright people but, who knows, it is possible they are both serial killers good at presentation of self in society.

We are not made to feel anything toward them – to invest in their fate – beyond our base empathy as functioning human beings. We are also given some odd asides, which presumably the director used to heighten the enigmatic quality of the film, but in practice come across as mere irritations. In the restaurant, Stella tells Halwende ‘to choose… I would never jump again’. The viewer is being asked to relate this to the earlier revelation that Stella’s thing is sky diving and to believe that Stella is making some sort of existential choice – but what should we do with that knowledge?

In the end, Halwende does show us that Izarin is a promising filmmaker, but with a few bugs still to iron out. The thought occurs that the director deliberately did not develop the characterisation in order to emphasise the sheer impossibility of knowing fictional protagonists – a brave risk, but one which ultimately failed to produce something an audience could really fall in love with, as the end result is the viewer is left wondering what the point of the whole exercise was. Although some of the scenes and images are truly memorable, ultimately, Halwende disappoints on this basis. My advice in future would be for the filmmakers to trust in their ambition more. When they have put together such a capable cast and production team, please make the most of them and give us a more expansive work where their characters can live and breathe. I will certainly be looking out for what they come up with in the future.

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