Experimental Reviews

ergens thuis en de ruimte ertussen [somewhere at home and the space in between] (2021) – 3.5 stars

Director: Angela Tellier

Writer: Sjaan Flikweert

Running time: 17mins

In short filmmaking, simplicity is key. While there are always exceptions to the rule, such films are precisely that – an exception – because they are so inexorably rare.

You might think that rule would bend slightly more for experimental cinema – after all, it is supposed to be a space where you can circumvent or challenge the norms of narrative art. Even then, though, the best films are often those which zero in on one particular aspect to play with.

For example, Huo Zhe, is a bizarre, liminal thought experiment centred on a lingering shot of someone washing their hands. Because of its minimal delivery, we are afforded time and space to think about what we are seeing, and or what bothers us about our daily lives. In contrast, meanwhile, Mixed Movie is a nightmarish mess of aimless imagery selected for the sake of its own strangeness. Amid the incessant babble of the film’s crowded 10 minutes, there is no haven for us to think about much of anything.

Fittingly for a film of its name, ergens thuis en de ruimte ertussen falls somewhere between these two examples. The title (which I will henceforth be referring to as ETEDRE) loosely translates as ‘somewhere at home and the space in between’, and sees director Angela Tellier commit a trio of writer Sjaan Flikweert’s poems to film. For the most part, the experiment works – the poetry is raw, and committed, while the image construction lends vivid metaphorical visuals to guide us through it all. The problem is that not all these segments were created equal – and their lop-sided delivery leaves us distractedly comparing them, rather than focusing on the merits of each one.

The short is delivered as three segments of spoken word, ably performed by Flikweert herself. She recites her work with the characteristic flourish of a poet in their prime; seeming to feel every word as though it is the first time it has ventured forth from her lips, bursting with nuance, insight, passion and longing. As her rhythm ebbs and flows, we are drawn into her poetry, and our minds happily go to work, piecing together the fragmented stories of sadness, desperation and hope that they contain.

To Tellier’s credit, she has largely done a decent job of building a vision that could complement these cascading verses. Deep deserted woodland and a dark bubbling stream accompany a passage about a young woman struggling to define herself in a world that is already “objectifying me before my first period.” Meanwhile, the stand-out segment sees Tellier gives new life to a poem about a girl witnessing the sudden decline of her mother’s mental health.

Flikweert’s words tell of the upheaval of a young life when its maternal figure suddenly collapses in on itself – before she even had chance to teach her ‘to wash spinach before cooking it.’ This might seem a trivial thing to worry about – but it is defining of a host of basic life-skills many of us take for granted, and usually because our mothers were able to impart such information. If we had this relationship disrupted, we would most likely feel isolated, confused and afraid. Tellier’s cinematic choices to illustrate these feelings are exceptional.

The scene sees Flikweert delivering an opening monologue while facing the sea. Being in the Netherlands, the coast is flat and endless, while the great grey of the ocean stretches out to infinity – a boundless and unwelcoming unknown stretched out before her, just as the fears of her mother’s decline might have in those early moments of confusion. Then, our narrator appears, floating on a mattress out at sea. A long way in the distance, a city can be seen – possibly Den Haag – but between it and our narrator are miles of rolling waves.

Her isolation is writ large in this moment; wrestling with her emotional turmoil, separated from her school, neighbours, friends – all of whom, Flikweert says, “did not ask” about her situation. Also amid the waves are assorted books, and a dolls house – perhaps remnants from her childhood bedroom – symbolising a childlike innocence consigned to history by the crisis.

It is an intensely moving sequence, one which viewers will be able to relate to and invest in. As a result, they will likely be drawn in, and prompted to think more deeply on their own experiences, how they felt alone when something went wrong, or how they might have reached out to others who were suffering. For a film to have such an impact is priceless – and on any other occasion, it would surely be the crown jewel of the piece.

The problem is, ETEDRE seems reluctant to leave things on a downer. Instead, it chooses to push on, through a third poem. This particular piece is well-written, but it is also arguably harder for the audience to immerse themselves in, being about more abstract ideals of community, hope and memory. This might be less of a problem if Tellier’s imagery were to reach its previous heights – but instead, she seems unsure on how to support the audience through this particular journey.

Having been set in the grounded, material realms of the woods or the sea – both ethereal and mysterious locations, but with their roots in environments we can tangibly experience – this third vignette takes place in some kind of sterile photobooth. An attempt to add depth to the scene with moody, blue lighting does not work especially well, with nothing in the room beside the actors for the light to give any definition. As a cast of actors move toward each other to support, having them in a grimier, more relatable locale might have helped tie us in to the moment – but as it is, they seem to be performatively hugging it out in a photography studio.

In this case, rather than be drawn into proceedings, our lives are left to wander. In the climactic three minutes, audiences may puzzle themselves ‘where did the visceral, emotive filmmakers of the first half disappear to?’ And that is a disaster. What they are thinking of should be thoughts of the sad or relatable stories in the film’s opening acts – not how the third one seems ill-fitted. In turn, while that doesn’t necessarily undermine the good work that was done in the first half of ETEDRE, it certainly diminishes its impact.

For all my grouching, though, I still heartily recommend ETEDRE. Whether or not the third part lives up to its predecessors, two of the film’s components are well worth your time. Indeed, they are good enough to work as standalone shorts, or as an extremely effective one-two punch. I can think of a few filmmakers who would like to deliver me something like that…

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