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After finding out that they have a debt of EUR40.000 with the tax service, four very out-of-shape men working at a car shop start to train for a marathon, in which they can win the money to pay the debt.
Stefan de Walle,
Martin van Waardenberg,
Commendable film if you allow the slow pace and the story to sip in by bits and pieces
I saw this film at the Berlinale 2013 film festival, as part of the Panaroma Special section. It was the world premiere, in a large venue with over 1,500 booked seats. Director Nanouk Leopold appeared on stage before the screening, and was offered the opportunity for an introductory address. She refrained from talking about the film itself. Instead she told that her last film was seen by 3,000 people in total, and now she was already halfway. A significant part of the crew was present and called on stage after the screening. There was only one notable exception: Jeroen Willems, who played the main character, but he died last December. There was no Q&A (but the festival website contains a link to an enlightening 47 minutes video of the press conference).
I would not be surprised when many viewers nowadays will say that not much is happening in this film. There are a few notable events, spread evenly over the running time, mixed with long intervals of boring farming routine and domestic chores. Father and son don't talk much. There are other dialogs, also limited to the bare essentials, with children from the neighborhood, the cattle merchant, the milk truck driver, and on some sparse social events. A woman living nearby brings an occasional cake, for all of us clearly with hidden intentions, but nothing comes out of it. Contrary to what would be a normal thing to do in a small community, people that come by are not asked to come inside for some coffee.
All of this tells us something, albeit not very outspoken. Notable quote from the father: "Why do you hate me so much?" From time to time we get some hints what could be the cause of their difficult relationship. It may have something to do with beatings when a child. This came up when Helmer talked about the hands of the farm help, being very different from the hands of his father that were only used for beating. On another occasion came about that Helmer's brother Geert died young (drowned), and that Helmer assumed that the father felt being stuck with the wrong son (father seemed not to remember this, but the suggestion is very clear). In small bites we get to build the underlying picture, if only when we allow ourselves to pick up the pieces lying around.
The slow pace of the whole film nicely blends in with farm life as it is in reality, at least as it is for a dying breed of small scale farmers. I recognize this way of life from my own youth. The farm where I grew up, was sold by my father just before the time came to scale up the business, which was something he did not want to at his age. Farming at that time had its peak moments of course, like the harvest, but most of the year was a tedious daily routine. For me it was nice and quiet way to pass the day, something to plunge in when my parents were on a well deserved holiday. Such a small period of a few weeks was very well bearable to experience a life seemingly far away from the city. Life on a farm as portrayed in this film does remind me of those days, very well done I must say, luckily avoiding the rosy view mostly associated with country life.
The last conversation between father and son before his death seems to have more contents than the total of all earlier conversations they ever had, at least that is the impression left to us. This is the moment that much of what happened earlier comes together. It underlines in hindsight several things that went past us, allowing us afterwards to connect the dots. Is it a humane thing to do to us, viewers, to postpone this until the final scene? It is, if you allow this film a fair chance to tell the story the way it is told here.
Anyway, I gave the maximum score for the audience award when leaving the theater. Is it due to the remembrance of the quiet life on a farm when I was young, which was certainly triggered while seeing this movie? But even when I leave that out, we still have a compelling view on someone changing to a different person, freeing himself from his past and what others expect from him.
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