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Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 16.May.21

The Dutch Boys  
Reviews by Rich Cline
the dutch boys
release UK 21.May.21
21/UK NQV 1h38

lukas by the sea
For the next in this global series, attention turns to the Netherlands, and five short dramas deal with potent themes of repression in a society infused with expectations and religious dogma. Yes, they're all rather serious, but they're also warm and insightful, and each is artfully put together for maximum impact. The young men in these films are yearning to honestly connect with other people. And the answers are right inside if they can learn to live truthfully.

Scholten van Aschat dir Viktor van der Valk
scr Kasper van Beek, Viktor van der Valk
with Reinout Scholten van Aschat, Coosje Smid, Lourens van den Akker, Manou Kersting, Eric Vliegenberg
13/Netherlands 13m

Steen   5/5

Brick Thoughtful and observant, this drama takes a documentary approach that highlights some surprisingly strong feelings. It's an unusually astute look at the moment when suppressed sexuality seeps to the surface, so the filmmakers' understated approach forces the audience to lean into each scene. And what it has to say is powerful.

In a small town, Jeffrey (Scholten van Aschat) has the life that's expected of him, working in the local brick factory, starting a family with his pregnant girlfriend Wendy (Smid) and living with her father (Kersting). Then after an awkward encounter with new factory worker Kevin (van den Akker), his conditioned revulsion is tinged with interest. But questioning himself throws off his rhythms with Wendy. It also makes him doubt the life he thought he was supposed to aspire to.

None of the people on-screen feel like scripted characters, and scenes unfold with fragments of dialog and glances that reveal a range of complexity in their interaction. Interaction with Wendy and her father has an easy earthiness to it, while Jeffrey's encounters with Kevin are much more primal, bristling with unwanted desire and a wave of self-loathing. When Wendy asks Jeffrey if he's afraid, she has no idea that it's not impending fatherhood that has him rattled. This is a smart, moving little film with a provocative sting in its tail.

van kessel and snijder dir-scr Marco van Bergen
with Tom van Kessel, Tine Joustra, Julian Moon Snijder, Milan Boele van Hensbroek, Frederiek Voskens
19/Netherlands 18m

South of Heaven  
Ten Zuiden van de Hemel   4/5

South of Heaven Taking on the collision of religion and sexuality, this short drama pulls no punches. It may be a little soapy, but it knowingly explores the way deep-rooted Christianity can become both harsh and hateful. Writer-director van Bergen's approach is complex and layered as it brings up a range of thoughts, beliefs and feelings that are hard for repressed people to express.

At the centre is music student Elias (van Kessel), who returns from Amsterdam to his rural hometown to celebrate his 23rd birthday. And he's unsettled when his boyfriend Jasper (Snijder) surprises him with a visit, because his mother and brother (Joustra and van Hensbroek) don't know that he's gay, and Jasper doesn't know that his family is so strictly religious. But Jasper plays along, even as he provokes Elias' family.

The film doesn't offer any answers, even as it depicts some nuance in the way people react to this issue. Instead, van Bergen focusses on telling moments that reveal inner issues, such as Elias squirming in a church pew between his mother and brother during a homophobic sermon, or Jasper looking lost during a preachy mealtime prayer. The point is that Elias knows that his family will never accept him for who he is and who he loves. And it's wrenching to see him struggle with what to do about that.

greidanus and van de sande bakhuyzen dir-scr Jordi Wijnalda
with Matthijs van de Sande Bakhuyzen, Tamar van den Dop, Julia Akkermans, Kay Greidanus, Mattias Van de Vijver
16/Netherlands 26m

Lukas by the Sea  
Lukas aan Zee   4/5

Lukas by the Sea There's an unusually ethereal quality to this film, which sends its title character on an all-night odyssey. Filmmaker Wijnalda takes a visceral approach, using evocative editing and surreal touches to dig beneath the surface. It's a moody, atmospheric look at that undefinable inner yearning for companionship, which is of course more about self-discovery than anything else.

Looking for a connection as night falls, Lukas (van de Sande Bakhuyzen) opens a webcam chat with a girl (Akkermans). But this isn't what he's looking for. So he heads out into the street, peering into brothels, visiting a seedy bar and then going home with a cute guy who thinks he's James Dean (Greidanus). But this isn't working either. And just as he gives up, he meets his neighbour Eva (van den Dop), who had always been a stranger.

It's clear that Lukas doesn't know what he wants, aside from not being alone. When he runs into a lone accordionist (Van de Vijver), all he can do is laugh. With his over-sized specs and floppy blond hair, van de Sande Bakhuyzen gives Lukas a likeably boyish quality that vividly brings out his curiosity and his sense of unpredictability. The key idea here is that Lukas needs to stop worrying about who he is and simply be himself.

keizer dir-scr Marc Wagenaar
with Bas Keizer, Gijs Blom, Olga Zuiderhoek, Helmert Woudenberg, Jasper Boeke, Joop Wittermans
18/Netherlands 28m

Dante vs. Mohammed Ali  

Dante vs. Mohammed Ali A gritty mini-epic about two teens in a rural village, there's a Fellini-esque quality to this film, which is packed with lively, colourful characters and situations that are underscored with poetic beauty. Expertly assembled by a skilled cast and crew, there are pungent feelings surging through this story, with people who reveal themselves unexpectedly. And where it goes is enormously moving.

It opens outside a small town, as residents watch Wolf (Keizer) take on his best pal Alexander (Blom) in a boxing match. But Wolf's heart isn't in it, and the whole village turns on him, demanding a rematch. His grandfather (Woudenberg) forces him to train, while his grandmother (Zuiderhoek) is more understanding about why Wolf's feelings toward Alexander might make him reluctant to fight him. So Wolf asks Alexander to run away with him. But is his grand gesture too romantic?

This is a beautifully made film featuring sharply developed characters who express their personalities with minimal dialog. The connection between Wolf and Alexander is skilfully infused with both soul and edginess by Keizer and Blom, largely in subtext. Everyone on-screen expresses internal thoughts and feelings in lyrically physical ways, sometimes sliding into fantasy. Wagenaar stages each of these scenes inventively, cutting through the surface with wild flights of fancy and a terrific sense of the old-world setting, as well as the underlying emotions that force people to make a change.

regtien dir-scr Marc Wagenaar
with Florian Regtien, Dimitar Nikolov
19/Netherlands 13m

Beautiful Alexander  
Mooie Alexander   4/5

Beautiful Alexander Observant and almost wordless, this sun-drenched short centres on a teen who is hiding indoors, seemingly afraid of his own shadow, but can't help but be drawn to what he sees outside. Writer-director Wagenaar is taking a clever look at that crippling internalised fear of putting yourself out there, weighed against the realisation that you're missing out on everything.

The setting is a warm summer day in a seaside town, where Alexander (Regtien) is watching people on the beach from his bedroom window. Then he spots another teen (Nikolov) atop a diving platform that sits over the dry sand, and his curiosity is piqued. As the day stretches into the evening, Alexander secretly keeps an eye on him. The next day, he's back. And Alexander works up the nerve to approach him.

The seriously gifted Regtien delivers a demanding, physical performance as a kid whose internal thoughts and feelings are expressed through his lanky body as he sprawls around his room, afraid to venture out. Then when he does, Alexander finally breaks the silence with a question: "Would you dare to jump if there had been water?" With its inventive approach and gently twisting plot, this is a lovely comment the world of wonders that awaits us if we can just break out of our shell.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 13.May.21

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