Official Selection International Feature Film
Dir. Bas Devos
The Richter Scale says: First we see an apartment in a static shot that lasts two minutes and feels endless, until we hear the voice of our protagonist explaining the pride she feels in the work she does, cleaning this apartment and making it habitable. We think that the woman who is talking is the owner of the apartment we are seeing, but in the next scene we meet the woman who is talking and we learn that she works for a company that cleans houses, so the apartment we saw might not be hers. Our protagonist is Khadija (Saadia Bentaïeb), a woman from somewhere in the Middle East who lives in Brussels and when we meet her, she is finishing a day’s work. She falls asleep on the subway home and wakes up when she reaches the last stop, so now she must find a way to get home, which leads to one obstacle after another (she tries to get cash to take a taxi, but has no funds … tries to take the bus, but it breaks down). On the way she has peculiar encounters with different people, including a homeless man who seems almost dead in the street and she decides to call an ambulance and an encounter with her daughter who is in the street with friends, although he does not dare to approach her.
This film is a very ingenious contradiction between what we see and what happens. Khadija is walking alone in a city in the middle of the night, a Muslim woman in a country that has had incidences of terrorism lately and could mistreat her, one expects the worst of this situation, and even how dark and cold the night is makes one expect something horrible to happen to this woman. Director/screenwriter Bas Devos transcends this expectation, since what Khadija’s encounters are, for the most part, friendly. She is never the victim, although she does witness situations in which other people are victims, either finding a young Muslim man staying in a house that is supposed to be empty, or the same homeless man on the street. It is a film with little dialogue and many long and contemplative shots that keep your eyes fixed on an image longer than you are comfortable, and this reveals a warmth in what this woman finds in this odyssey. This role is not a particular challenge, since it is mainly a reactive character, but Saadia Bentraïeb has a very striking and grounded presence that becomes a vehicle for the viewer to imagine themselves the skin of this woman, although she never forgets to make her unique.
Many of the themes we see in this movie are in the details. Although the issue of racism is not explicitly addressed, it is present in some reactions from different people. We don’t see Khadija interacting with her daughter, but the way she looks at her and how she doesn’t answer her mother’s calls tells us a lot about this relationship. It is a clean, somewhat episodic narrative, but unlike many films with similar concepts to this one (one in which a character tries to reach a destination and there are obstacles on the road that keep causing delays), the obstacles never feel forced or too ridiculous. It is a film that celebrates the places we are proud of and discovering what is around these places, those things that we never give ourselves the opportunity to discover until something forces us to look closely.
Take Me Somewhere Nice
Official Selection International Feature Film
Dir. Ena Sendijarevic
The Richter Scale says: “There are two reasons why one helps someone: the right one and the real one.” This phrase said in the movie seems to be its thesis statement. It is an odyssey in which a teenager finds ways to take advantage of people, sometimes generating pure sympathy and sometimes very aware of the effect she has on other people. The teenager in question is Alma (Sara Luna Zoric), who lives in the Netherlands with her mother from Bosnia. Alma has never met his dad and now, for the first time, she will travel to Bosnia to meet him and on the way she finds out her dad is hospitalized. For now, she is staying with her cousin Emir (Ernad Prnjavorac), a moody and strict young man who has Denis (Lazar Dragojevic), a more impulsive and charismatic young man who feels an instant connection with Alma, under his tutelage. After much convincing and even an escape, the three undertake a trip to the hospital where Alma’s father is and on the way, they meet and explore a country that seems to be abandoned by the world and is flooded with internal conflicts.
Alma is a difficult character. She is cold and very impulsive at times, but she has desires with which many people can identify and even when we see how she takes advantage of her cousin and Denis’ feelings, we understand what she is looking for and what she needs to do to get it. The greatest achievement of young actress Sara Luna Zoric is the way she projects this invisible layer that she uses to protect herself from her feelings and the feelings of those around her, something that makes her look very cold, but Zoric makes it very clear that this is something fragile and has her moments when she shows how scared she is. Lazar Dragojevic injects a lot of energy and becomes very touching in the role of Denis, and his chemistry with the protagonist works in a way that they do not seem meant for each other, but you can feel the attraction they have. This same chemistry is felt with Ernad Prnjavorac, although with him it becomes more toxic. Director Ena Sendijarevic gives a lot of space for these three actors to interact, maintaining a distant aesthetic that captures these characters from unexpected and uncomfortable angles (particularly in romantic scenes that disorient the viewer), with colors that are bright without being warm.
The context of the country is constantly present, particularly in the wishes of some of these characters to leave this country and the fascination they have with the fact that Alma lives in the Netherlands. This is the perfect excuse to tell a story of that teenage concern of finding a better life, a private paradise, a corner of the world that has everything one wants, something that one can think they found only to realize that it does not exist, and all that remains is to find a place that is at least pleasant. It is possible that this is a love story, or simply a story about desire. In adolescence, it is possible for one to be confused with the other.