Director: Amelia Veldhuis
Writers: Amelia Veldhuis & Luuk Audenaerde
Cast: Adaja Matahelumual, Laurens van Hofslot
Running time: 7mins
Using experimental cinema to talk about social pressures can see filmmakers walk a bit of a tightrope.
There is the more obvious risk that by making something too abstract you obscure whatever point you were hoping to make, while alienating the audience you had hoped to impact emotionally on a subject that they cannot identify with. But there is also the risk that you may go too far the other way, wielding a level of unsubtle imagery which bludgeons the audience over the head with your point, leaving them feeling patronised – and probably less sympathetic to the goal of your film.
Amelia Veldhuis’ De Lichtkinderen [literally The Children of Light] comes dangerously close to that latter issue. After a strong start, it verges on babying its audience, with a visual metaphor so heavy-handed that any room for debate or interpretation of the piece is utterly shut down.
The film’s initial analogy draws parallels between a young actress (Adaja Matahelumual) being berated by an overbearing director in an empty auditorium and her friend (Laurens van Hofslot), who feels marginalised and belittled by his family. Veldhuis’ cinematography is restrained, simple yet effective – showing us Matahelumual’s performance unfold, before revealing the true protagonist of Van Hofslot, watching from the shadowy seating of the cavernous theatre.
Clearly, Van Hofslot sees something of himself in the plight of the young actor, as the play’s director micromanages every facet of her delivery. And in turn, we see something of ourselves in him – a cultural consumer, processing his own problems through what he sees and hears. This makes it easy to empathise with his position, when we cut to a scene of his family babbling around a table, gradually ramping up from casual chit-chat to hefty assertions that he needs to change various aspects of his life – while feeding him apples.
That comparison is effective for what this film is trying to be – it shows us enough for the point not to be lost, while leaving us enough room to work things out for ourselves. Had Veldhuis and her co-writer Luuk Audenaerde left it there, I wouldn’t have much to complain about. It is perhaps a story that has been told many times over, but there is enough poetic guile on display to justify this Nth retelling of it.
Unfortunately, the story goes on. The pair re-convene in the theatre, and Matahelumual confronts Van Hofslot, in what could have been an interesting opportunity for both actors to get their chance at emoting in the way they see fit. But then she asks him, “Is that who you are? Are you their marionette?” and suddenly the filmmakers abandon any pretence of subtlety – cutting to shots of both performers now tied up with long, white strings, dangling from above them.
It was heavy-handed enough to literally namecheck a kind of puppet, but to then physically show our characters with strings attached is basically to scream in our faces “SEE, THEY FEEL THEY LACK AUTONOMY – LIKE A PAIR OF PUPPETS. DO YOU UNDERSTAND YET?”
It is a testament to Veldhuis’ skill as a filmmaker that her piece has built up enough good will, in its brief run-time, that I still think it’s worth bothering with. There is some clever subtext around food, of being fed, but craving something else – no matter how much your elders might think it is ‘the best thing for you.’ And the film’s cinematography highlights this beautifully in the last shot, when Van Hofslot, silhouetted against the brightly lit wall of the theatre, contemplates whether to bite into a big green apple. In turn, having associated with his position for the film’s duration, we might also wonder whether we are really living as ourselves, or just serving the dictatorial whims of some other higher power.
All this shows that Veldhuis has great potential as a visual storyteller – and she is already realising some of that potential. A little more restraint will be necessary to get the most out of her future projects, though. Particularly when it comes to spelling out subtext best left in the background, and giving us something to get our teeth into.