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Slow and exquisite drama elegantly portrays the fleeting connection between two very different strangers in Brussels - from the 41st Turin International Film Festival

A young and handsome Romanian builder (Stefan Gota) works in the suburbs Belgian capital. It is summer, and he walks around the city in shorts during his spare time. He is planning to return home, despite the pleas from his fellow workers that he stays. His sister Anca is a lot more indifferent to his plans. Or perhaps she’s just too afraid to voice her real thoughts and concerns. It is never clear whether they have a profound fraternal relationsip

In Bas Devos’s fourth feature film, the dialogues are brief and sporadic, and viewers are left to imagine the history and driving forces behind each character. Instead, the film focuses on the sensory, textural, almost hypnotic qualities of the environment, with engrossing images of nature and cryptic urban sounds acquiring an extra dimension. A distant thumping, presumably from the building sites, combined with other minimalistic sounds provide the soundtrack to minuscule plants covered with raindrops. Human beings are just another species within this complex ecosystem

A Chinese scientist works at a very small nature reserve, also in Brussels. Her research focus is even smaller: mosses. She describes herself as a bryologist (not a typo, this is indeed the term for someone who studies such non-vascular plants). The quiet and serious woman spends most of her work time on her knees observing the mosses through her magnifying glass. Or ordering daikon (radish) from the local Chinese restaurant, which is accidentally visited by the Romanian builder during a very rainy day. The two eventually meet when he goes for a walk inside her verdant workplace. The two very different outsiders bond. But Bas Devos isn’t interested in fast-blossoming romance. The Belgian director wishes to investigate very slow growth instead, in a way not dissimilar to female scientist.

Filming in 16mm enhances the sensory traits of the story. The extreme close-ups of the moss acquire a dreamy texture. And the unusual 1×1 frame ratio provides characters with a sense of imprisonment. It is only in nature, namely in the “miniature forest” (that’s how the Chinese scientist describes the tiny, flowerless plants), that the two protagonists encounter a sweet and delicate type of liberation.

Here is a meditative, observational experience. It also possesses an impressionistic quality: Devos’s fourth feature film captures the plants and the characters spontaneously and entirely on the spot. This is a movie about the tiny, almost imperceptible movements of nature and of human beings. It’s all happening right here and right now. The moss continues to grow strong as you read the review. Perhaps so does the bond between the two nameless protagonists.

Here shows at the 41st Turin International Film Festival.


By Victor Fraga - 27-11-2023

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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