The success of the Netherlands Film Festival (NFF) this year will also be reflected in the size of the panda eyes at premiere parties. The smeared mascara of brightly made-up visitors after a game of crying in the cinema. After all, all four feature film premieres on this 42nd edition are about mourning and losing a child, loved one or parent much too early.
This is how the festival opens with Sea of Time, based in part on the true story of a young couple in the 1980s. While sailing around the world, they experience every parent’s nightmare: their son disappears and is never found. Back in the Netherlands, their relationship breaks down during the recovery process. Also in narcosis mourned for an untraceable body. A diver’s family has to move on after he has not surfaced after a job. In closing film bo A troubled young woman travels to her father’s grave in Georgia and begins a tempestuous relationship. And then there’s femiwhich shows that a twenty-something who has a child has never come to terms with the suicide of his own father.
Peter de Bruijn established in corona time, when many Dutch people lost loved ones to Covid, that relatively few films have been made about mourning. There are well-known examples: films by Ingmar Bergman, or closer to home The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012) and Tonio (2016). But their number is small when you consider that everyone loses loved ones in his life.
The wave of mourning films that is flooding NFF this year is not because makers and financiers became aware of a defect in corona times, says NFF programmer Claire van Daal. “Many of the films shown were already planned or ready for the crisis.” She calls the fact that they are released and selected for the festival at the same time a coincidence. She does notice that many young Dutch film makers throw themselves into the subject. The directors of femi and narcosis are 29 and 39 respectively. And at the festival is also running Pink Moon by Floor van der Meulen, in their thirties, in which a son and daughter go through a grieving process before their father opts for euthanasia.
Is there less fear among novice makers these days about raising this heavy theme? Possibly. What is also striking about these debuting Dutch directors is that they do not choose, like Theu Boermans in the opening film, to look a grieving process straight in the eye and to portray it straight forward. The young makers on NFF cross the processing of a loss with other genres. So is Pink Moon in addition to grieving, it is also an absurd comedy that provides loaded moments with clumsiness. In femi the protagonist tackles his unresolved past with Nigerian voodoo, with a thriller-like result. Because of these crossover elements, the films easily manage to maintain the precarious balance that grief films simply are: you want to take the viewer into the pain of the main character, but not let him drown in a sea of sadness.
One of the most elegant solutions to that balancing act can be seen in this year’s documentary L’Amour La Mort by Ramon Gieling. His film states that death and love are inextricably linked. He opens with the question: “Would you rather love more and suffer more than love less and suffer less?” Most of those portrayed seem to gravitate towards the former, despite immense agony.
Sabeth Snijders is a film editor.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of September 21, 2022