Category: Films

My Life (Mi Vida)


‘Is this all there is?’ the 63-year-old Lou (Loes Luca), mother and grandmother, seems to wonder. Mi Vida is about Lou from Schiedam, who has always had her own hair salon, at the same time raising her children. Time for something new.  She is dreaming of starting a hair salon in Spain, but keeps this to herself. She follows a Spanish language course in Cádiz, Andalusia and becomes friends with her teacher Andrea (Elvira Mínguez).

The modest woman gradually seems to ‘unfold’, but how is she going to cope with the reaction of her children who are used to having a mum who is always available? They call their mother ‘self-centered’ and ‘too old’ for a new start in her life.  Film director Norbert ter Hall (&ME, De belofte van PisaA’dam-E.V.A.) calls Mi Vida a coming-of-age film. He says that we may think these films can only be about teenagers, but every new stage in life forces you to re-evaluate your life. Who am I? What do I want? Lou is re-inventing herself and her dreams seem to stem from old memories, having to do with her father, Spain, a lot of sunshine and fun, an easy atmosphere.


In a radio interview with Gijs Groenteman (Kunststof, NPO 1, 12 November 2019) Loes Luca chuckles over the outfits she was wearing in the beginning of the film: ‘There is no room for vanity in this film. This is about normal people with normal problems and about a normal woman, dressed in ugly clothes and with an odd hairdo.’ She adds that she felt like a ‘Teletubby’ in her tight T-shirt and shiny, quilted jacket, showing her fat rolls and love handles even more. ‘I loved it, as it was all for a reason.’ Later the same Lou looks entirely different, smiling a radiant smile and wearing a stunning, green dress.

Loes Luca adds remarks that it was a challenge for her to play a sorry person. ‘It is fun to look for these parts in your own inner self’. Laughing out loud, she explains that Norbert, the film director, tempered her ‘lovingly’ as she is the very opposite of her character Lou. She found this challenging, so she agreed to play the part immediately after reading the script, written especially for her by Roos Ouwehand. She features in a film for the first time, having had minor roles in Ja zuster, nee zuster and Huisvrouwen bestaan niet. Other roles were played by the Spanish actress Elvira Mínguez and the Dutch actors Anniek Pheifer, Mark Kraan and Loïc Bellemans.

Lots of things went wrong for the director, Norbert ter Hall, whose dream became a nightmare when the Spanish actress Rossy de Palma suddenly had to withdraw. He had just landed in Sevilla after years of preparation for this film. Only two weeks to go! In Het Parool (Monday, 18 November 2019) he explains that he felt like a ‘con man’. Although this had not been his mistake, he could not brush off this sense of embarrassment. Finally, he found Elvira Mínguez who had a role in Todos lo Saben (with Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem). Two weeks afterwards they could finally start shooting the film. Norbert ter Hall comments: ‘I want to tell stories that push the limits. First of all, those of the characters in the film, but eventually those of the audience, too. Stories make your world larger, more beautiful and intense.’


The dynamics between Loes and Elvira are magnificent. The subtle facial twitch and a slight stir of the lip tell us more than words. When they do talk, Andrea’s eyebrows keep rising and her face seems to betray a mixture of annoyance and endearment. Sometimes she has to refrain herself from chuckling, when Lou flavours her Spanish and English carefully constructed sentences with a very Dutch accent and with Dutch expressions. When she reproaches her teacher Andrea for being ‘angry de godganselijke dag’, the Dutch audience bursts out laughing, also because of Andrea’s eyebrows lifting  again and again. Both women wonder what to do with the rest of their lives. They are trying so hard. We cannot but feel empathetic. Don’t we all struggle and stumble? In the midst of a serious talk about their predicament, Lou remarks: ’You have to think about the rest of it, ’, where she uses the  Dutch word ‘hè’ instead of the tag ‘haven’t you’, which keeps giving the story a light tone. In the middle of a few of her remarks in Spanish, Lou suddenly exclaims ‘jaaa nou jaaaa’, the comical effect of which is reinforced every time, because we are aware that we understand her Dutch, but the puzzled Spaniards do not.

There is a lot of body language in the movie: the icy look that Andrea and Lou give each other  changes into a warm one, when they become friends. Lou’s daughter Barbara (Anniek Pheifer), who reproaches her mother for not being there for her, tries to hide her coldness and insecurity. Lou tries to conceal her discomfort. At the same time, they both desperately want each other’s love. This is all made tangible by a few shivering lips, sideway glances and furtive looks.

shadow and sunlight

Both Lou and Andrea live with the shadows of the past, but also with dreams that seem to be lost, but perhaps are not. When the two ladies get drunk in a karaoke bar, sing Sinatra’s song ‘this is my life’ and hang in a porch, they are completely open about their dreams. They encourage each other to fulfill them. But how?

The sense of guilt is there, both about the past and the future. The children are pulling at Lou and she pours her heart out with Andrea: ‘I often worry that I was not a good parent.’ At the same time she realizes that she does not want to spend the rest of her life, taking care of everybody all the time as she has always done. It is her turn now, her life. Andrea challenges her to have what she wants for herself and Lou encourages her teacher to purchase her dream: writing. What will they choose? By the way, it is no co-incidence, of course, that one of Lou’s young fellow-students has got Charles Dickens’s novel, Great Expectations, under his arm.

All of this takes place in Cádiz, a bright, sunny and colourful setting, where everybody seems to turn up miraculously, when needed. The accidental man in the street turns out to be Andrea’s father and Lou happens to meet the boy, named Pablo, again, completely out of the blue. Quite convenient for the plot, but okay, no big deal. This is a feel-good film about dreams, ambitions and courage, about life. Lou, in her best Spanish, remarks: ‘Esta es mi vida.’

Het Parool, 24 February 2020: More than 100.000 people have seen Mi Vida, so the film has reached the Golden Film Status.  Norbert ter Hall remarks: ‘We attributed this film to our mothers and 100.000 mothers have now joined them.’

title: Mi Vida

cast:  Loes Luca, Elvira Mínguez, Loïc Bellemans, Mark Kraan, Fermi Reixach, Jason Mba, Anniek Pheifer, Diewertje Dir, Ida Ogbamichael, Eugenia Verdu, Bella Agossou, Verónica Echegui

producer: Petra Goedings, Maaike Benschop

film director: Norbert ter Hall

script writer: Roos Ouwehand

year: 2019

genre: drama, comedy

run time: 88 minutes

languages: Dutch, Spanish, English

country: Spain

distributor: Paradiso Entertainment Nederland







In and out of the box

Who is Luce? Who is this gifted, high-school boy with his great smile and athletic body. Luce (Kelvin Harrison jr) was taken from Eritrea as a child and adopted by Amy (Naomi Watts) and Peter Edgar (Tim Roth). In a speech at his school in Northern Virginia Luce chuckles when telling the audience that his white mother could not pronounce his name, so ‘my father suggested they rename me’.  The audience, both on the screen and in the cinema, burst out laughing when he says that he did not understand his name at first. Luce? It sounds like ‘loose’, he smiles, baring his sparkling teeth. His real name remains unmentioned, probably no coincidence in a drama about identity.

Luce’s teacher, Ms Wilson (Octavia Spencer) is suspicious of this charming boy, though, and she questions his motives for writing an essay on the revolutionary psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, who supported violence as a means to stop colonization. She decides to search his locker, finds some illegal fireworks, and consults with Luce’s parents, which makes us all struggle with what to think and who to believe.

What is going on between black boy Luce and his black teacher Ms Wilson, who appear to think differently about their position in America and how they might be seen. What about the other black boy who is denied a scholarship? In a conversation, published in Drama Movies (Entertainment Scene, Filmmakers, Sundance, 24 January 2019), co-director and co-writer Julius Onah explains: ‘I knew from my own experience, having gone to Washington – Lee High School (recently renamed Washington Liberty) in the middle of Arlington, that it was a melting pot inside of a melting pot, even though it’s predominantly white. Arlington was also interesting because, like many places, it has progressive ideals that run up against internalized prejudices that people either aren’t aware of or refuse to acknowledge.’ He goes on to explain that the reference to ‘black black’ in the movie stems from his own experience at school, where some black people were accepted by whites and others, the ‘blacker’ ones, were not.

Strange, disconcerting things start to happen as the movie goes on, both to Ms Wilson as to Rosemary, her sister (Marsha Stephanie Blake). The strong suggestion that Luce, who appears to have so many different faces, is somehow involved in all this causes uneasiness. Is this black paragon of virtue really such an emblem of an integrated immigrant? Can his white, suburban parents handle him? How do they cope with their own convictions, but also growing fears about their model son? They desperately cling, not only to their own ideas of Luce’s character, but also to those of their own parenthood. They have taken such efforts, paid for years of therapy after Luce’s childhood in Eritrea and he has been doing so well.  Their idealism, goodness, even identities seem to crack. Especially Amy is prepared to do a lot to preserve her own notion of who she is and what she thinks she believes in.                                               

Julius Onah (in the above mentioned conversation, published in Drama Movies) says: ‘I knew a lot of people like Amy and Peter in Arlington. People who are educated, smart, privileged and profess certain ‘liberal’ values. What I found interesting about the story was what happens when people who look good on paper discover tension between the values they profess and having to actually live those values.’

The atmosphere in the film gets more grim, also because of Luce’s Chinese- looking girlfriend Stephanie (Andrea Bang), who – like Luce – is fighting to escape the ‘box’, full of demands, they feel they are in.

The characters get more complex and ambiguous. In this film about racism, power, privilege and identity, manipulation reigns. Not just on the screen. In the cinema questions about our own preconceived ideas and expectations stare us in the face, leaving us unsettled about Luce and about ourselves.

title: Luce

directed by: Julius Onah

written byJulius Onah and J.C. Lee

starring:Kelvin Harrison Jr., Octavia Spencer, Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Norbert Leo Butz, Andrea Bang, and Marsha Stephanie Blake

genre: drama, thriller

country: USA

runtime: 109 minutes

year: 2019

distributor: Searchers in the Netherlands

language: English

After the wedding

film review

Secrets and surprises

After the wedding is a remake of Susanne Bier’s 2006 drama by the same name. It differs in that the two main characters are women instead of men: Isabel, an idealist (Michelle Williams) and Theresa, a millionaire (Julian Moore). Their worlds intertwine in unexpected ways.

Isabel runs an orphanage in Calcutta, India, which needs new funds as soon as possible. A group in New York City is interested, but not willing to pay anything, unless Isabel herself flies over to prove her need for an investment.

She is quiet of nature and somewhat inhibited, so when provided with an absolutely luxurious suite in a very expensive hotel she does not know what to say, especially having come from a nearly poverty situation. She believes the richness offered her by the group is completely unwarranted.

She meets Theresa, the manager of the New York group, who overwhelms her by putting the grant for the orphanage in doubt. Thus we have the beginning of the relationship between an introverted and an extraverted woman, one of them being extremely wealthy and the other not: a contrast which is unsettling, but not overpowering in terms of cynicism or self-importance.

Strangely enough, at least to Isabel, Theresa invites Isabel to the wedding between her daughter Grace (Abby Quin) and Jonathan (Alex Esola). Being somewhat intimidated by the shimmering wealth of the scene, Isabel stands aside, when suddenly her attention is drawn to Oscar (Billy Crudup), a man she knows well. Oscar, a highly successful artist, appears to be Theresa’s husband. He notices Isabel at the same time and is equally startled. He keeps their conversation short. Too much is to be said. What secrets are working between the two and how does this relate to Theresa, who appears to have secrets of her own?

As the film progresses, Isabel wants a decision on funding, but is convinced by Theresa to stay on a while longer than the week Isabel had planned. Hence, Isabel is inevitably drawn into the family of Oscar and Theresa, including Grace and her husband Jonathan. Secrets slowly begin to emerge, causing consternation and discontent for Isabel, but also for Grace.

Theresa has her own concerns which will inevitably determine the outcome of the film. The revelations are accompanied by everyone, on the one hand, with relief, but on the other hand, with dismay and great unhappiness.

At the end of the film, relationships have changed and purposes in life have been altered forever. Williams is superb in showing how Isabel is able to adapt to a new and challenging role in life, while Moore in the role of Theresa is convincing by carrying her own heart-breaking secret almost to a conclusion.

Bert Freundlich, the director and husband of Julienne Moore, maintains a tension between the characters and between not knowing at all and knowing too much.


production:  A Riverstone Pictures, Rock Island Film, Corner Stone Films and a Joel B Michaels Production

director:  Bert Freundlich

screenplay:  based on the Academy Award nominated film by Susan Bier

cinematography:  Julio Mat

editor:  Joseph Krings

music Mchael Danna

run time: 112 minutes

cast:  Michelle Williams as Isabel, Julienne Moore as Theresa, Abby Quinn as Grace, Billy Crudup as Oscar  and Alex Esola as Jonathan

distributor: Dutch FilmWorks





Romy’s Hair Salon (Kapsalon Romy)

Pain and comfort

Romy’s grandmother Stine (Beppie Melissen, striking as ever) is a hairdresser with her own salon. When her daughter Margot (Noortje Herlaar), after her divorce, asks her to babysit Romy (Vita Heijmen), she is certainly not thrilled. Nor is Romy, but gradually they become closer. Granny is showing the first signs of Alzheimer’s and Romy helps her out when she gets muddled up when returning cash or struggling with an I-pad.

Not many words are used to show a world of frustration and sorrow. Subtle hints like a light gesture, a remark or just a look show how relationships are at the moment, not only between Romy’s parents (salient roles by Noortje Herlaar and Guido Pollemans), but also between Romy’s grandmother and mother.

Romy, a strong and friendly 10-year-old, manages to find her own ways of coping. She realizes that she is needed. Where are granny’s earrings, what has happened to her immaculate hairdo and her fashionable outfits? Why cannot she count the money from the till anymore? Stine is gradually getting sloppier, both physically and mentally. Her harsh attitude has gone and she is happily planning on Romy’s future in the hair salon. Her snappy remarks have made place for mildness, something her own daughter must have missed. While leaning on the sink, Margot’s one glance at her mother seems to say it all.

Stine’s face lights up, when showing her late husband’s picture to Romy. Years ago, he had taken her from Denmark to Holland. Remembering her home country, some Danish words and sentences slip through. However, there is no trace of a Danish accent in Stine’s Dutch. Although Danish and Dutch are both Germanic languages (Danish is a North Germanic and Dutch a West Germanic language in the Indo-European language family), this does not seem plausible. Of the small grammatical mistake Stine makes (‘die ding’ instead of ‘dat ding’) it is not clear whether this was intentional or not.

Romy wants to make granny happy and decides to fulfill her dream. This gets everybody into trouble and we see the characters with their assets and sensitivities in full bloom, but again without any sentimentality or exaggeration. It is easy to identify with all of them. Their pain and worries, their awkwardness and clumsiness illicit our smiles, chuckles and lumps in the throat.

In the end, the whole event of carrying out Stine’s wish brings everybody closer. They look lighter and softer. The Danish scenery, so wide, so amazing and green, seems to reinforce a sense of relief. In spite of the Alzheimer’s Disease, gradually transforming Stine, this is an uplifting and soothing film for young and old.

year: 2019
genre: family, comedy, drama
length: 92 min.
country: the Netherlands
language: Dutch
adaptation of the book Kapsalon Romy by Tamara Bos
scriptwriter: Tamara Bos
director: Mischa Kamp
cast: Vita Heijmen, Beppie Melissen, Noortje Herlaar, Bianca Krijgsman, Guido Pollemans, Aus Greidanus sr.
producer: Bos Bros
distributor: Cinemien


best International Literary Adaptation for Children or Young Adults Frankfurter Buchmesse Film Awards, 2018

BFF Children’s Film Award Kristians and International Children’s Film Festival 2019

best Film by the Professional Jury & Best Film by the Children’s Jury Tel Aviv International Children’s Film Festival 2019

special Award – Gragnano Consortium Award (Elements 10+) Giffoni Film Festival 2019

Busan International Kids and Youth Film Festival Busan, South-Korea (July 9 – 15, 2019)

Tel Aviv International Children’s Film Festival Tel Aviv, Israel (July 16 – 20, 2019)

Giffoni Film Festival Giffoni, Italy (July 19-27, 2019)

Tromsø International Film Festival Tromsø, Norway (September 4-9, 2019)

Warsaw Kids Film Festival Warsaw, Poland (September 21-29, 2019)

Buster Film Festival Copenhagen, Denmark (September 23 – October 6, 2019)

Netherlands Film Festival Utrecht, The Netherlands (September 26 – October 4, 2019)

Schlingel International Film Festival Chemnitz, Germany (October 7 – 13, 2019)

Vienna International Children’s and Youth Film Festival Vienna, Austria (16-24 November, 2019)

The Heiresses (Las Herederas)

Prisons in Paraguay

Martinessi’s debut Las Herederas shows a lesbian couple against the background of Paraguay and its dark history of dictatorship (1954 – 1989). Chela (Ana Brun, a pseudonym because of her lesbian role) and Chiquita (Margarita Irun) have been together for more than thirty years and are both from rich families in Asunción, Paraguay. For his film, Martinessi wanted women that could move and interact naturally. Ana Brun, who is actually a lawyer in daily life, and Ana Ivanova had little acting experience, and were open to something new. They appear to be natural talents.

Chela and Chiquita have been leading an easy life, each of them more or less fixed within their own patterns. This all comes to an end when they get into financial trouble. We see other wealthy women trotting through their house, clicking their polished nails against the crystal glasses and assessing the furniture that is now all for sale.

Chiquita goes to jail and settles in placidly, chatting and laughing in the yard full of equally loud fellow-prisoners. The shy and passive Chela visits her and is clearly uncomfortable in this world, formerly unknown to her.

Their old neighbour, Pituca, asks Chela to be her driver when she goes to her weekly card game. Chela, who used to be at home, binge-watching TV-series while Chiquita and their housekeeper were taking care of her, accepts and gradually gets more confident. After a while, she meets other women who also need a driver. One of them is the sensual Angy (Ana Ivanova) who starts flirting with Chela. This acts as a wake-up call for Chela. Her dull eyes get a sparkle and she starts paying attention to her outfits and her make-up. Angy tells her that sunglasses make her look more glamorous and here she is: with new sunglasses and all.

However, the work as a driver does lower Chela’s social status. We see her waiting in hallways with half-open doors to rooms with old ladies with chic dresses and jingling bracelets, playing games in their stifling houses. Chela is not with them at their tables as in the past. The muffled gossiping and chitchatting reinforce the whole sense of her not belonging to their world anymore. The conversations in the film are based on those of the film director’s (Marcelo Martinessi) mother and aunts when he was growing up. He did not always live in Paraguay, which has widened his view. He can take some distance from it all, although his country still feels like a prison to him. The whole film seems to breathe this suffocating atmosphere. Before 1989, it was hardly possible to make films in Paraguay and even today film directors usually have to lean on financial support from abroad.

Class distinctions, the background of a still tangible dictatorship, sex, secrets behind closed doors: this is all interwoven and expressed in subtle looks and dialogues. When, at the end of the film, Chiquita is about to be released, having served most of her prison term, Chela finds herself at a crossroads in her life. Will she escape from her own personal prison?

film director: Marcelo Martinessi
language: Spanish, Guarani
runtime: 98 minutes
cast: Ana Brun, Margarita Irún, Ana Ivanova, Alicia Guerra, Nilda Gonzalez, María Martins.
production: La BaBosa Cine
genre: drama
distributor: Contactfilm
Bauer prize & Fipresci Prize, Berlinale 2018
Jury award in Competition World Cinema Amsterdam
36 awards and 35 nominations
Ana Brun: best actress, Film Festival Zilveren Beer
Prix Fipresci & Alfred Bauer Prize, Berlinale 2018

Pet Sematary

Apparitions and racing trucks

Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) is a mild-mannered physician in Boston who loves his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and their two children Ellie (Jete Laurence) and Gage (twins Hugo and John Lithgow).  Both Louis and Rachel have had enough of their busy life in Boston and have decided to move to the country.  The film opens with the family plus lovable pussy cat Church traveling by car to their new home in Ludlow, Maine.  The doctor wishes to spend more time with his children, while Rachel is tormented by guilt as she still feels responsible for the untimely death of her sister some years back.  She hopes a more relaxed life style in the country will help her come to grips with this part of her past.

The first ominous sign something is amiss in their new locality appears when Louis fails to save the life of Victor Pascow (Obssa Abmed). While recovering from this tragedy he is confronted by an apparition, Victor’s body, bloody face and all, that suddenly sits straight up as if alive.  On second glance the apparition is gone.  The apparition reappears throughout the film with timely advice for Louis.

The next event occurs when Rachel and Ellie are exploring the woods behind their home. They come upon a procession of young people wearing face masks of the dead animals they are carrying. The young people are proceeding to the Pet Sematary where the animals will be buried.  Rachel and Ellie are very cautious, even suspicious, in the first instance when walking through the woods. The encounter with the procession strengthens their feeling something very odd is happening.

As if encouraged by the scene, Ellie later decides to discover for herself what is going on.  She comes upon the animal cemetery, but a barricade consisting of branches and limbs from trees prevents her from going further.  She, nevertheless, being the curious girl she is, begins to climb over the barricade, but is startled when an elderly man, who later appears to be their neighbour Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), shouts at her not to go any further causing her to fall and injure herself. He treats her injury in a kindly way and they become friends.

A further and even more ominous signal, accompanied by music appropriate to a horror movie, is the fact that huge tank trucks suddenly race over the country road along their house. The audience actually gasped upon hearing the horrific sound made by a passing truck.

In the meantime, Church, the family cat, goes missing. Louis, after assuring Ellie and Gage that the cat will eventually turn up, discovers its bloody remains when taking a walk along the country road. Church, it is assumed, was killed by one of the passing trucks. The death and burial of Church by the grieving Louis thus becomes the key to understanding the rest of the film. Jud tells Louis he knows where to bury Church. At first it would be in the Pet Sematary, but Jud, realizing the grief of Louis, decides to bury the cat in the Indian burial ground which lay on the other side of the barricade. He assures Louis the burial in this place will guarantee the return of Church to life.

The effects of the creaking woodwork in the country house, the foggy woods and the magical return of the deceased are reinforced by Christopher Young’s music. So do the immediate close-ups of the actors by the cinematography of Laurie Rose.

The return from the dead, whether beast or man, stretches the imagination. There is also some comic relief in the film, which does make it all rather innocent. Church the cat, for instance, is sometimes absurdly funny in his frightful meanness, but Pet Sematary certainly provides a good dose of impending disaster.

film: Pet Sematary
year: 2019
second adaptation of the 1983 novel of the same name by Stephen King
directors:  Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmeyer
screen script: by Jeff Buhler, from screen story Matt Greenberg (1989)
camera:  Laurie Rose
editor:  Sarah Broshar
genre: supernatural horror
production Company di Banavontura Pictures
producers:  Lorenzo di Bonventura, Stephen Schneider & Mark Vahradien
executive Producer:  Mark Moran
cast:  Jason Clarke as Louis, Amy Seimetz as Rachel, John Lithgow as Jud, and Hugo and Lucas Lavoie as Gage
music score:  Christopher Young
runtime:  101 minutes
distributor:  Paramount – In Holland Universal Pictures International


Free Solo

Al Capitan: an impossible rock-climber’s challenge?

In the documentary Free Solo we see 31-year-old Alex Honnold, a skillful rock climber who has decided to ascend the sheer 3,000-foot cliff of El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park.  This seems hard enough as it is, but he is going to push the limits even more by leaving his safety gear at home. He is going to climb without any rope or other device. He is followed on his pursuit by mountaineers and film directors E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, the latter of whom also climbed the Meru in the Himalayas in 2015. While suffering from frostbite and trench feet, he kept filming this climb.

Honnold seems like an ordinary nice guy in an ordinary red t-shirt. He has been living in his van for nine years where he does his pull-ups in the morning. His training sessions in a climbing gym in Sacramento take hours every day. He also trains on the cliff itself while being attached to ropes. In this way, he explores every nook and cranny of the massive granite and notes down its narrow cracks and ledges, rehearsing and memorising them.

Tension increases. The big day for Honnold’s free solo is approaching. Then, after less than an hour, he realizes he has to give up. Circumstances were not right, he would say later. It was best for him to descend. And practise again. Until 3 June 2017. The film crew’s stress is tangible. Ditto here in the cinema. We are on the edge of our seats watching Alex. We are all aware of the fact that the slightest disturbance could be fatal.  How to film Honnold without making a sound or a distracting move? Of course, they have discussed every detail in advance, but there is no such thing as complete control.


How is his girlfriend Sanni McCandless taking all this? She ‘makes life better’, he says. She is ‘cute and small’ and – conveniently – ‘does not take up much space in the van’. However, he will always choose mountain climbing over her, he remarks.  Love is not always good for his ‘mental armour’.

‘Climbing makes death more immediate and present’, he explains, and this is why he needs 100% focus. Sanni calls her boyfriend ‘brutally honest’ and on Instagram she writes: ‘When I first started dating Alex, people would ask me about death. They wanted to know how I felt about his profession and the risk involved in soloing. But I wasn’t wondering if he would die; I was wondering if we even liked each other. Instead of deep contemplations on risk and consequence, I felt an intense curiosity to learn more about relationships.’ Yet, we also see – and share – her struggle between encouraging him on his mission and at the same time wishing him not to tempt fate.


Why try such a thing at all? Is Honnold a thrill seeker? Has he got some sort of disorder? An MRI test illustrates that there is no activation in his amygdale, the part in the brain that processes pleasure, fear and anger. Honnold dryly remarks: ‘With free-soloing, obviously I know that I’m in danger, but feeling fearful while I’m up there is not helping me in any way.’ He just sets it aside.

The cameraman at the foot of the mountain cannot handle the pressure anymore. While he is muttering to himself and drying his tears, we see Alex dangling by his fingertips on a thin edge at, say, 2,000 feet. We cannot help thinking of his girlfriend and his mother. His fingers, arms, toes, his whole body must be strong and flexible in a way we cannot even imagine. His endurance, but also his calculation of the cliff, weather conditions, and his own skills is beyond us. How can he be so calm and analytical?

Will he maintain all these skills when alone on the majestic El Capitan? Awestruck, we gasp, close and open our eyes, fumble for a handkerchief and then, at the end, we slowly lean back in our seats, releasing a long-drawn sigh.

directors: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi & Jimmy Chin
year: 2018
runtime: 97min
country: USA
language: English
genre: documentary
cast: Alex Honnold, Jimmy Chin, Tommy Caldwell, Cheyne Lempe, Mikey Schaefer, Sanni McCandless, Dierdre Wolownick, Peter Croft

1 Oscar, 29 wins and 47 nominations

Directions (Posoki)

A suicide in Bulgaria

Posoki (Directions) is an intriguing road movie which gives us a bleak outlook on present day Bulgaria. A taxi driver is bribed at the bank. He kills the banker and himself. Five colleagues and their customers react on this while driving from A to B and listening to the radio, covering this news and holding a national radio debate on the Bulgarian society. They all move through the night, hopefully towards some more light.

director: Stephan Komandarev
cast & crew: Vasil Banov, Ivan Barnev, Assen Blatechki
year: 2017 (in cinema: 2019)
genre: realistic drama
runtime: 01.43 minutes

Downton Abbey

A royal visit

Who does not know the TV series Downton Abbey about the 1920s and the aftermath of World War I and – of course – about the aristocratic Crawley family and their staff with the huge mansion at the scene of their intimate chats, intrigues, and stolen kisses. Highclere Castle, Newbury, is again the scene and so is its 1,000-acre estate, made by the famous 18th century landscape designer Capability Brown, with its cedar trees – some of them older than 250 years – giving the gardens extra grandeur. The English hills, the steam engine train crossing them, the mail coach and the cobblestone streets are delightful to the eye.

Two aristocrats, the earl and countess of Carnarvon, are still living in the castle that they used to hire out for weddings in order to be able to maintain their residence. Their worries must be over as today their mansion receives thousands of visitors a day, some of them taking tours that include a traditional afternoon tea and a tour guide to lead them through the mansion and gardens (£ 125 a person). No wonder the film theatre Tuschinski in Amsterdam was packed at the premiere of the film Downton Abbey, based on the TV series. A Universal Pictures speaker calls the series ‘a copious meal’ and he regards the film as ’the desert that is so delicious that you are glad you ordered it’.

For the film, Fellowes needed a dramatic device that would ‘bring all the characters together’, he tells Christiane Amanpour in a CNN interview (20 September 2019). He needed a central storyline. He had read about the visit to Yorkshire of George V and Mary. Suddenly it had struck him: ‘This is it’. He also remarks that Downton Abbey has always referred to actual events like the differences between classes, male and female rights, republicans and monarchists.

Both the Crawleys and their servants are preparing for this royal visit, all with determination. Not all with the same kind of eagerness, though. Does the royal staff want to take over at Downton? Are you kidding? Apart from the hustle and bustle of cleaning windows, polishing silver, and selecting the wines, there is enough food for romance, intrigue and mischief. And power, not only of the high class Crawley family, but also of their loyal and creative servants in the basement.

They are back

Is the storyline in the film thinner than in the TV-series? Who cares? They are back. We welcome Dame Maggie Smith again as the invincible Countess of Grantham who – with her unique sense of drama – exclaims ‘the nation should be brightened with glamour’. She certainly lights up the room as always. As Julian Fellowes in his CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour (20 September 2019) points out, he loves working with her as ‘Maggie always hits the button’.

Of course, Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern as the Earl and Countess of Grantham are here again and so are Michelle Dockery and Laura Carmichael as their daughters Lady Mary and Edith. Penelope Wilton as Cousin Isobel is as witty as ever and has clearly decided to sharpen her retorts to the Countess. Furthermore, a new star enters the scene, the Oscar-nominated actress Imelda Staunton as Lady Maud Bagshaw, who happens to be married to Jim Carter, the famous butler, Mr. Carson at Downton.

A blanket to curl up in

Why do we love both the series and the film so much, Amanpour wonders. Fellowes responds that there may be several reasons for this. Although society was changing radically at the time, the 1920s may look like ‘quite settled’ to us, given that we live in such an ‘unsettling world’ ourselves. Both the TV series and the film show a romanticized idea of what ‘Britishness’ was and – to some – should be returned to.

Fellowes adds that Downton Abbey is about ‘the artificial relationship between you and the characters’. Do you want to relish seeing them again next week? According to Fellowes, both the upstairs and downstairs characters are ‘relatable’. Besides, the TV-series gave us ‘a blanket to curl up in on Sunday nights’, which Amanpour heartily confirms by replying that we all want to ‘snuggle in’.

During stately parades and glamorous balls and – naturally – in the Downton Abbey kitchen downstairs we find the ingredients that give a specific taste to the tongue: envy, rebellion, treason, class distinction, theft, rivalry, sexuality, pump and circumstance, trouble about an inheritance, but of course also bravery, loyalty, friendship, love and in the end, during a dance, all is well that ends well for both the Crawleys and their staff.

film: Downton Abbey
year: 2019
genre: costume drama
runtime: 122 min.
country: UK
language: English
based on a TV series, written by Julian Fellowes film
director: Michael Engler
nominated for an Emmy Award: 69 times
three Golden Globe Awards scene: Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England (architect: Charles Barry)
distributor: Universal Pictures Amsterdam

cast: Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Allen Leech, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Robert James-Colliler, Joanne Froggatt, Jim Carter, Imelda Staunton, Geraldine James, Simon Jones, David Haig, Matthew Goode


Freedom and Commitment: Disobedience?

Ronit Arushka (Rachel Weisz) and Esti Kuperman (Rachel McAdams) were involved in a friendship in their early youth, which – because of its extreme intimacy – was not appreciated by their Jewish Orthodox community. Ronit, now a sophisticated soft beauty, moved to New York where she became a photographer, while Esti, now an attractive but still a relatively plain housewife and teacher at a local school in Hendon, England, seemed to be quite happy with her life.

The relative peace in the lives of Ronit and Esti became radically disrupted when Ronit’s father Rav Krushka (Anton Lesser) suddenly passed away. As a rabbi in the Synagogue he was just explaining before the congregation how humans with their freedom of choice differed from purely spiritual angels and from animals with their instinctual desires when he collapsed and died soon afterwards.

Ronit felt she had to return because – in spite of their earlier differences – she did love her father and as her mother had died earlier, she was the supposed heir of his estate. She, nevertheless, dreaded to come back to the customs and religious duties of the Jewish Orthodox community. At the funeral reception she was received with cool apprehension.

Esti, for her part, was greatly upset upon Ronit’s arrival as it reignited her attraction to her. She, however, was now married and accepted as an integral part of this community. Later during a joyous dinner a pall was cast over the table when she suddenly expressed her feeling against the custom of women having to give up their last names at marriage.

Ronit, feeling ill at ease, left the house only to be followed by Esti. They walked together for some time. Eventually they came to an empty playground and their passions got the better of them. Just as this event took place, a couple from the congregation appeared and exclaimed, isn’t that Ronit and Esti.

The husband of Esti, Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nicola), was completely unaware of Esti’s dismay, even though family and friends found the situation more or less untenable. Everyone apparently knew that Ronit and Esti had crossed the line as far as their religion was concerned with the apparent exception of Dovid.


When Ronit was advised by her uncle Moshe Hartog (Allan Corduner) that her father, with whom she had had little contact, had bequeathed all his belongings and estate to the synagogue, she realized there was no further reason for her to stay. She was surprised at the passion that Esti still appeared to have for her, but received it with pleasure. Director Sebastian Lelio presents us with the dilemma. What was Esti going to do? Because of Esti’s relationship with Ronit her husband Dovid felt he could no longer become a rabbi, so: was Esti going to stay with him after all? She had just learned that she was with child. But she had demanded her freedom from Dovid and he had granted it to her. He understood that Esti was not happy with their marriage. Was she going to renounce it and return to New York with Ronit? What to do with her passionate love for Ronit? Perhaps Dovid’s decision to refuse the rabbiate would change her mind and she would stay with him.

The film delves into the complexities of intimate relationships, especially gay relationships, implicit when occurring within a strictly regulated culture such as Jewish Orthodoxy. Perhaps greater liberalization is needed with respect to traditional customs and religious belief? With Rabbi Krushka’s sermon of freedom of choice in mind we wonder what Esti’s decision will be. To be human is to choose and to choose is to be free.

director : Sebastian Lelio
producers: Frida Terresblanco, Ed Guiney and Rachel Weisz
screenplay: Sebastian Lelio and Rebecca Lenkiewicz adaptation from novel by Naomi Alderman
runtime: 114 minutes
photography: Danny Cohen BSC
editor: Nathan Nugent
music: Matthew Herbert
casting: Nine Gold
production: Film Nation Entertainment, Film4, Element Pictures LC6Prodjuctions and Braven Film
distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing