Screened as part of NZIFF 2004
Belgian musician Tom Barman – founder of the band dEUS – etches a sharp, funny and ominous panorama of the hip and the not so in a city that doesn’t feel so very far from home. In the criss-crossing narrative style of Robert Altman, he takes us from one morning to the next in the lives of eight characters in Utrecht. Two bantering, skinny hipsters start day one by dimly recalling the night before with a cute girl and her ugly friend. They are bill posters without licences, evading the police. A flaky young woman set-dresser meets up with her friend who walked into a door and has a black eye that no one believes she got by walking into a door. The set-dresser’s projectionist ex gets fired for scratching the print of a Cronenberg film, though it’s kind of obvious that he didn’t do it. He’s also a DJ. His T-shirt says ‘Respect Is Due’, and he starts the film being respected in the face by a flying frisbee. His current girlfriend is having a party. Meanwhile her brother, an artist who works with dead animals, steals test tubes full of microbes from their recently deceased father’s lab. A 50-something teacher rails against sycophantic students and has a tetchy relationship with his young wife, exacerbated by the precocity of their 7-year-old son. Their teenage son has just tested negative for HIV. A philandering gallery owner deals with his assistant and a visitor from Israel. The film’s climactic party is an amazing pièce de résistance, a very convincing mêleé of all these people getting out of it and dealing with equally out-of-it people we haven’t met (including one memorable guy volubly offended by the fashionable disdain for the 80s). It culminates in a strange and touching, trance-like dance, led by the film’s most mysterious character.
This is one very ambitious film, inspired, Barman says, by Raymond Carver, Jeff Wall, a respect for ordinariness and lots of little things he’d observed and wanted to put in a movie some day. This wild inclusiveness keeps you off-balance – and entertained. The film was a major hit on home ground. The humour is deeply sardonic in the lowland manner: the hipsters riff brilliantly, for example, on their contempt for a blind guy whose cool approach to his disability drives them bananas. A bravura use of music keeps the whole thing aloft. There is also a touch of the apocalyptic, which, Barman assured viewers at the Vancouver Film Festival, lives in perpetual juxtaposition with the ordinary: ‘some guy picks his nose and the world will end’. — BG