Director: Lucas Camps
Writer: Lucas Camps
Cast: Bert Hana, Daniël Kolf, Florence Vos Weeda, Anton de Bies
Running time: 8mins
Whenever you are watching a real stinker of a film, it can be all too easy to forget that there are human beings on the other end of the work you are scoffing at. Maybe not quite so literally as with Wall #4, but still: real-live human beings have poured their hopes, dreams, blood, sweat and tears into the product in the hope someone out there will enjoy their efforts.
It is an inescapable fact of this age of mass media consumption that many of us feel like we have seen it all – and it can leave us with something of a nasty streak when we engage with such work. Having gorged ourselves on a glut of cinematic treats designed to appeal to our sensibilities, we not only think we know better than many filmmakers – we become actively hostile when they do not supply us with the things we expect.
Lucas Camps’ short horror is the unspoken desire of every filmmaker to be able to fire something back at the naysayers – a fantasy to skewer the insufferable theatre-goers determined to prove they are smarter than your film, thanks to their apparent media-literacy. During the screening of a crime noir in Amsterdam, the boorish movie-goers gradually become frustrated with what they are being shown – with sarcastic mumblings steadily mounting to a grotesque crescendo of neuken, neuken, neuken… Having failed to relate to the emotional drama of the apparently “cliché” film, they begin loudly demanding that the noir’s lead characters “fuck” to provide them with some cheap entertainment.
In a turn of events that they did not see coming, however, the incandescent female lead (Florence Vos Weeda) screams at the audience to shut up. As the lights turn a menacing red, the smug viewers suddenly find that the titular fourth wall has dissolved, and the safety of hurling anonymised abuse at complete strangers has evaporated with it. Chief offender Bert (Bert Hana) – who rapidly descended from passive aggressive armchair-critic to lecherous sexist during the screening – is made an example of after he finds The Actress sitting behind him, with murder in her eyes.
The crowd descends into panic, and attempts to exit, only to find the doors barred. Trapped in the atmospheric theatre, their rush to escape amid the blood-red tones brings to mind the gorgeous lighting of Lamberto Bava’s Demons – a film also featuring a knowing audience subjected to a malevolent presence in a cinema. Bava co-wrote the film with – among others – Dario Argento, whose sumptuous visual stylings clearly rubbed off on him. That style is alive and well in Camps’ short – while for all its attempts to seem like a flubbed film, his faux-noir is also utterly stunning visually.
The fantasy of filmmakers getting revenge on an unsympathetic public is an understandable one – while its slick realisation means that over the seven-minute run-time it could have been an easy narrative for me to be swept along with. But this remains a “could have been” due to some rather clumsy oversights which I expect will alienate Amsterdam theatre-goers, and international audiences.
The first, and least grievous, of these matters is that viewers like the ones in Wall #4 simply aren’t really interested in films like the one they are sitting through. Film noir is not something which features in mainstream cinema anymore – suggesting that the viewers are attending a procured film in one of Amsterdam’s arthouse cinemas.
In the audience, we see people glued to their smart-phone, kicking the backs of seats, and throwing popcorn at each other. We see them shouting for the film to “show some pussy,” and other such unsavoury phrases, at what they believe is a lifeless piece of fiction. For attenders of cinema in the Netherlands, the idea that this mob would have wasted their money to attend the screening of the type of film they were going to hate (presuming the film was not advertised as a Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbuster) at a specialist film night is more of a stretch than the idea a film could come to life. That’s before we even get to the idea an audience who plainly does not like to engage with the genre would have seen enough noir to know what is or isn’t cliché. I know we’ve been out of the theatres for a while now, but the memory of who would congregate for certain films, and how, is still ingrained in the public consciousness.
Beyond this – at least to English speaking audiences – the film lacks a sympathetic character. In a horror story where a series of characters are set up as horrible individuals, deserving of a punishment, someone else needs to exert some kind of pathos. If there isn’t someone nice in the group of survivors, that can come from the threat itself; especially if it is being framed as some sort of vengeful spirit.
As we have established, The Actress has some pretty valid grounds for taking issue with the perverse baying of the crowd. The issue is that in the English translation, when she lambasts the crowd, the subtitles suggest that she labels them “retarded.”
[NOTE: Please see the note in the concluding paragraphs, as the following part of the film has since been changed.]
The term is not exactly a precise translation – the word in Dutch that The Actress uses is achterlijk, or idiotic in English. Both words have etymological roots in some pretty awful mental health terminology from several centuries ago, but have long ceased to refer specifically to people with learning disabilities – so it might be argued you could give the use of achterlijk the benefit of the doubt here.
Unfortunately, “retarded” is not a word which has lost its initial meaning. The use of the term in English as an insult is collectively frowned upon as ableist – while people who use it conversationally are considered to be bigots. And while in Dutch conversation, many people are still happy to sling it about (and not shy to translate it for English colleagues either), if you are going to distribute a film to another geography, you have to make yourself aware of such things.
Whether or not any of this is something Camps knew when having his script translated for subtitles is anybody’s guess – and it would be wrong for me to assume his own contextual knowledge of English is strong enough to have realised what was being said. All I can say is that the material consequence of that word being deployed is that those of us who do not speak Dutch will have a very different opinion of The Actress to those who do. While flawed characters can say some pretty nasty things without being subject to such criticism, this is a one-note story in which we can only assume she is the good guy. If this is what we are being asked to think a good guy is, it bodes poorly for the film’s broader morality too.
In the end, it tars the film’s overall attempts to punish wayward audiences. It is, after all, possible that some people do make ‘bad’ films. If you are hoping to please crowds with your work, it is ultimately down to we swinish multitude to determine what pleases us. That people should have their mental capacity questioned if they determine what is being offered is displeasing is a distasteful idea – whether it was purposeful or not.
For some, the amount of this review I have devoted to this particular line of thought is probably completely overblown. However, I will conclude, there were a lot of people involved in this film, by the standards of an indy production. As well as the large cast and crew, finance came from a number of charities and culture funds. Nobody funding, greenlighting, or producing the film thought to flag up the translation before a sales agent took to distributing this work internationally. No director is omnipotent, sometimes other team-members need to catch mistakes – and when they don’t, this is the kind of collective oversight that can cost an otherwise good production dearly.
Since publication of this review, Lucas Camps has been in contact to note that he was not aware of the baggage the term used carried in English. While the film appears to have financial backing, budgetary considerations meant a professional translator was not used – and it does not appear to be something the other members of the crew were aware of in their second language either.
Having been “shocked to find out through this review” that achterlijk doesn’t translate in the way he expected, Camps said he has taken immediate action. He has changed the subtitle file on Vimeo and FilmFreeway, with the translation now reading “stupid-ass audience.” He also contacted his editor to make a new DCP for the international market.
Camps added, “I don’t want any unintentional sour taste coming from something I’ve made.”
On my first watch of Wall #4 I concluded that for a film about breaking the fourth wall, it was ironically lacking in self-awareness. However, I think the response of its chief architect to my notes has thankfully proven that wrong. A more tone-deaf filmmaker would have doubled down on their choice of phrasing – indeed they have in past reviews – and accused me of being a ‘snowflake’ etc. The fact Lucas Camps took accountability for his output so quickly is something which should be highlighted, and commended. It should stand as an example, and encourage other filmmakers to take a more sensitive, less defensive approach to such matters. Because in the end, language matters, in a way that is more important than slightly bruising your ego to admit you made a mistake.
In this context, I think it is fair that I re-evaluate the film slightly, and upgrade its score. Without the previously mentioned clumsy use of a very ugly term, the film stands up much better – its vengeful spirit given a new lease of righteous life. Certainly, its potential is no longer lost in translation.