Director: Victoria Warmerdam
Writer: Victoria Warmerdam
Cast: Henry van Loon, Wim Willaert, Sieger Sloot
Running time: 12mins
Watching the pandemic unfold in the UK over the last two years has been difficult. I’m obviously aware that I am extremely lucky so far compared to others who have lost so much in the same period – but in my own case I feel severed from my old life, my friends and family, as their lives go through periods of profound change.
Friends have married and had children, while beloved family members have faced the challenges of advancing years amid a health crisis that preys heavily upon said challenges. And I have been marooned for the last two years, unable to visit, to celebrate the flourishing of young lives, or to cherish the remaining spark of older ones. With December usually being a window for such socialising, it is a time when the feeling of being dislocated from a part of my past is particularly palpable. Of course, I am grateful for all I have here, but the places and people I’ve left behind will always be part of me, and being severed from them is painful.
With that being said, one of the sweetest things that happened to me recently was several old friends each reaching out, “out of the blue.” Whatever the cause for this – coincidence, collective instinct, personalities being in tune – it has provided a moment of emotional solace in all this turbulence, helping me put my feelings in perspective, and reminding me that part of me is still alive; and there are people who remember and care about me, whether I am physically there or not.
Films and filmmakers can do something similar too. Serendipitously re-entering your consciousness just when you need them, some movies have an almost therapeutic element to them; disarming your critical faculties with charm or fantastical elements, before giving you a safe space to think through your own emotional health. Snorrie (also known in some quarters as Mustachio) plays precisely this role.
At times absurd, deadpan, hard-hitting and emotionally intricate, writer-director Victoria Warmerdam’s film feels like a friend re-entering your life just when you need them the most. Perhaps it feels that way because, as some of you might remember, Warmerdam’s previous production Korte Kuitspier was such a roaring success; and her new outing has so many of the same virtues.
In both cases Warmerdam’s scripts deftly dance on the thin line between comedy and tragedy. Her stories play with our inbuilt responses as adults confronted by the fantastical, before using that response to trick us into introspection about those kneejerk responses. In Korte Kuitspier, we chuckle at the treatment of a man as a ‘gnome,’ before the film makes a very serious point about the dehumanisation of minority groups. In Snorrie, meanwhile, early laughs come from a grownup being confronted by the imaginary friend, who he ‘abandoned’ in late childhood.
In both productions, Henry van Loon shines as the comedic archetype of the straight man; caught as a helpless observer of increasingly farcical proceedings, which eventually build to an impactful, emotional crescendo. In this case, Van Loon’s performance as the level-headed comic foil also enables a second core presence to shine, however.
It would be wrong to say either Van Loon as Freek (pronounced Fray-k) or Wim Willaert as Snorrie steal the show – they are two sides of a collaborative performance. What I can say is that it was a privilege to witness two actors at the very top of their game here, bringing the best out in each other. Against Van Loon’s determination to remain grounded and sober, Willaert is an intense, emotive figure who brings depth and gravitas to the film’s central interaction. Meanwhile, the later injection of Sieger Sloot (also returning from Korte Kuitspier), as the former invisible friend of a neighbour’s child, adds further texture. Sloot’s measured but emotive performance embodies a middle-ground position which moves the story along intuitively, while ensuring the core interaction between Freek and Snorrie does not become one-note.
When we first meet him, Freek is sorting through the belongings of his old family home, packing them up for a move, when he is confronted by Snorrie, who is seeking ‘closure’. From the very beginning of the encounter, dressed in dark colours, Freek restrains himself; therapy sessions have previously informed him that his fantasy friend is not of any material importance, and that he should move beyond them. In contrast, Snorrie, sporting his characteristic moustache (snor being the Dutch for ‘moustache’) is wearing his emotions on the sleeve of his brightly coloured 90s garb.
Smiling while seemingly on the brink of welling up – some 30 years after they were last together – Snorrie clearly wants to immediately embrace, but is cautious due to the standoffish reception he is given. Willaert brings all the bittersweet sadness of a jilted lover, finally given the chance to reconcile with their former partner. It is something that Warmerdam plays with for comedic effect initially; but as the story progresses, deeper themes of regret and emotional repression emerge.
While we initially scoffed at the idea an imaginary friend would feel like they needed to get ‘closure,’ we worked from the assumption that things without physicality are unimportant and childish. But even if Snorrie was ‘only’ ever a figment of Freek’s imagination, that makes him a part of his psyche – a manifestation of a lonely time in the early years of his emotional development. By cutting Snorrie out of his life, Freek has estranged himself from the emotions Snorrie represents.
Freek’s initial ‘straight man’ response primed us to laughingly dismiss Snorrie’s reappearance as the mistimed re-emergence of an absurd pest, then. Of course, we thought, we are ourselves old and wise enough to have moved beyond the babyish need to have an imaginary friend. And we laughed at Snorrie, because we believed he was a silly, childish presence that needs to be exorcised from Freek’s conscience. That’s because we have been through this same process of ‘growing up.’ In that process, many of us have confused ‘maturity’ with presenting ourselves as robots, severing ourselves from our emotions to present as level-headed, sober adults; and when we are confronted by a situation where we need to engage with those emotions to come through it, we shut down as a result.
And there it is, once again, Warmerdam has executed that characteristic sleight of hand that was also at the heart of Korte Kuitspier. She has played with our biases, prodding us into laughing, before using that laughter to flag up the absurdity of the things we assumed were common sense. It’s Pixar for adults – but more than that, it’s a unique, intricate balancing act made all the more remarkable by the fact she can pull something like this off repeatedly in films with such meagre run-times.
Part of me wishes some wealthy backers would hand Warmerdam and her team a huge budget to see what they could do with a feature, but another part also feels that diminishes the art of what she is already doing. These shorts are not the ‘stepping stone’ we so often unthinkingly dismiss them as, not the means to an end – they are the end, the art, itself, and should be celebrated as such.
I sincerely hope Victoria Warmerdam and her producer, who simply credits himself as Trent, keep sending their work to Indy Film Library. These films have been a privilege to watch and to write about. The only thing I would worry about is that if they do send another, I might run out of superlatives.
As for this one, I would love nothing more than to go into more detail on the writing, performances or production. I could talk for days about the wonderful craft of the central arc of Freek, the beauty of his realisations in the context of everything he is going through, and feelings and fears it helped me to think about in my own life as someone who also once felt they “couldn’t cry.” But you should feel those things for yourself. Whether we are able to host it at a physical event in the spring, or if it should end up on Amazon Prime, keep your eyes peeled for Snorrie. It is the long-lost friend you never knew you needed.