Director: Johan Oudshoorn
Writer: Guus Westdorp
Cast: Hugo Voorn
Running time: 6mins
Cynical as some of my writing may seem, once in a while even I need some earnest positivity in my life. Fortunately, Johan Oudshoorn’s music video for Guus Westdorp’s song Zien (See) is a veritable banquet of misty-eyed optimism – so for the next three months I will be able to retreat back into the grimmest content IFL is provided with to sleep off my meal, like a snake that’s just swallowed a hippo.
It might be a little straightforward and, dare I say it, even corny, but Oudshoorn’s film is genuinely affecting. It follows Vinn (Hugo Voorn), a disillusioned boy cycling across Europe in search of meaning. The film begins in black and white, with Vinn passing through grimy city streets, and the billowing chimneys of carbon-guzzling factories. He cuts a tiny, forlorn figure against the grandeur of the alienation and destruction surrounding him. It couples nicely with Westdorp’s lyrics – which he delivers with admirable honesty, if not a lot of finesse – crooning about “Searching the Earth for its colours”, and “chasing my dreams as best I can” in spite of “seeing what the world has become”.
But just when hope seems lost, with Westdorp lamenting “a broken Earth and broken promises”, something changes – he encounters something calling on his eyes to open, as they are “telling me to see”. At this moment, the imagery re-saturates with colour, and we find Vinn cycling through the dazzling fields of rural France. In particular, a brief stroll through a vibrant sunflower field, buzzing with insect life, seems to spark something in him.
Sitting beneath a tree, he takes out a digital tablet to begin sketching, inspired by his surroundings. Without wanting to give away the ending, the fact he is a red-head named Vinny should give you an ample hint at which direction things are going in – and the ghosts that his antics end up invoking. In the end, this is a well-rendered short story. It complements the original song, while adding another layer of impact, offering up a heartfelt message to people around the world not to give up hope in a seemingly cold and grey world.
By rediscovering the beauty that remains in it, and highlighting it in art, we can find places in an apparently hopeless present where we can still dream about the future. As saccharine as that might be to some viewers, I think it is an especially pertinent message, given the relentless onslaught that young people engaging with art are currently facing from the so-called forces of ‘progress’.
The cruelty of the world is timeless, but the ‘innovations’ of modern life seem to have an especially sadistic quality to them. In particular, the rich and powerful seem hell bent on specifically weaponising technology to disengage young people from the artistic process.
Disney is currently working tirelessly to gloss over its catalogue of classic hand drawn animations with nightmarish ‘photoreal’ CGI lions, elephants and crabs – a middle-finger to any child previously inspired to pick up a pencil and try to interpret the world for themselves. At the same time, the world’s least talented people are pouring endless resources into artificial intelligence technology with the aim of producing endless images of Popes in puffer jackets, or ‘expanding’ classic album covers to reveal which shoes Bruce Springsteen (definitely wasn’t wearing) on the Born in the USA cover.
The world’s foremost capitalists are sinking funds into all this, effectively telling us in no uncertain terms that however powerful your imagination or gifted your hands might be, the visions of the world they can conjure up do not have a place in their future. And in a world which is quantifiably becoming worse every day – not because of the threat of killer robots, oddly enough, but because those same capitalists have exhausted the levels of growth the planet can accommodate without imploding, and so to maintain profits, wages and working conditions need to be pushed down – telling everyone that art is no-longer a viable human pastime is insanely cruel.
Remember that one creative avenue that helped you understand and criticise this increasingly grey, hostile life? That faculty where you could even dare to dream of a better world? Gone. Forget it. Start learning how to programme (until we automate that too).
Zien is a welcome riposte to that particular mode of thinking, though. It might not have much edge to it, but it is a warm and evocative rallying cry for anyone thinking about picking up a pencil, and trying to show other people the wonders of life from their perspective. There is still a world to win.
The filmmaking might not pull up any trees, there are not any shots in particular which you will find especially innovative in Zien, and the change of colour and contrast might be a little didactic for some tastes. But it does still manage to be emotionally honest, and narratively engaging – developing the story of the song beyond its vaguer terms. Substance always trumps style in the end, and Johan Oudshoorn’s filmmaking certainly has plenty of the former.