I saw this film as part of the Rotterdam Film Festival 2012, in a venue that was fully booked (375 seats). I would not be surprised when this resulted from the high praises in the festival brochure. Who can resist words like "intense, consistent crossover between social drama, revenge film and Lynch-like trip" and not being tempted to go and see what it is all about.
The opening scene on the nudist beach was described in the same brochure as "hypnotic". We were warned beforehand about frontal nudity (I can deal with that), but that was not all. The very beginning of the scene provided for even a deeper insight (literally!). I still fail to see the relevance, even in hindsight, albeit some reviewers explain that our own life started from a woman's womb, and that on its turn connects with the fact that all life originated from the sea, the same sea where the African immigrants are stranded and where we see them suddenly appear in this beach scene. I don't see it. Anyway, I found the explicit nudity a bit of a stretch, over-the-top and unnecessary. But I seem to be alone in this.
Our main character Amadou demonstrates several examples of daring maneuvers to get into people's company. It leads to uncomfortable moments (for us viewers), but for some reason or other he never fails. In other words, he has his way with people (men and women) and uses that "instrument" effectively. He is full of initiative, and very different from the usual immigrant who we often see portrayed as lost in the big city.
The story gets us into unthinkable dwelling places in Brussels, where "a place to live" certainly can be considered a misnomer. One is reasonably safe there as long as one pays. But we can only guess what happened with his wounded mate Sakia, who was not able to work and pay for himself. When Amadou makes trouble about Sakia's disappearance, he is thrown out and at the same time looses his job and income. In view of the latter I cannot understand how he can say that he is 4 months in Brussels when phoning home. It remains very unclear how he can have survived that long without income or shelter.
I observed a few other inconsistencies in the story. I don't consider this a reason to discourage seeing this film, given a lot of very good moments to compensate. It is not a thriller nor a whodunit, and the dramatic development is the only thing that counts here.
Further, I want to question a trifle detail in the scene where we enter Brussels and we see the environment mirrored. This may have some higher purpose, but it went past me (maybe just a gimmick, to get reviewers started).
The ending of the film leaves us wondering how much of the final scene was real and how much fantasy. Scary when real, though devoid of blood or other visible proof of a fatality. (This may be vague, but I want to prevent spoilers.) It can be intended as home work for us viewers, in that we try to read between the lines and construct our own interpretation out of what we saw. I guess that this not a loose end, but deliberately left open by the film makers.
All in all, there are two things worth remembering. The first one is the compelling sound track that appears from time to time, to support the scene at hand. The second thing to remember is the strong presence of our main character Amadou. It is not clear to me how he does it. He always succeeds in drawing attention to himself, even in peaceful situations. Yet the feeling is even stronger in hostile situations, where you see immediately that he is "there" in the center of our attention. What is his secret??
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