Eyes Wide Closed By Annika Gustafsson

in 46th Thessaloniki International Film Festival

by Annika Gustafsson

With her first feature film, Someone Else’s Happiness (Een Ander Zijn Geluk), the Belgian Fien Troch makes her remarkable international debut. Her film is strong in expression and well acted, with her own intelligent and cogent script.

The introduction has the slight touch of a crime story, as the main character Christine (Ina Geerts) discovers the body of a child by the side of the road. By the time the police arrive at the scene the body is gone. Has Christine really seen a dead child, or is the whole thing a figment of her imagination?

On the next day, the villagers find out that a ten-year-old twin boy has gone missing.

From that chilling, disturbing beginning Fien Troch takes the viewer on a journey through a society afflicted by fear and guilt, where the Belgian paedophile scandals of the ’90’s are ever present but never mentioned. Like Michael Haneke in Hidden, she questions our ability to see what is going on around us, the passivity and the ensuing, grinding guilt that follows. In a few short passages, a reporter is heard in the background talking about “a cease-fire in the Congo”, and thus Fien Troch widens the private sense of guilt to one which also touches on the country’s historical and political guilt as a colonial power.

Christine is an optician, and is thus daily involved in people’s ability to see. One could possibly argue that the theme of sight and lacking insight is almost overly emphasized. The villagers make up a recognisable social spectrum of today’s West Europeans. Here we find the wealthy middle class, the working class, and the marginalized lunatic, a man with psychological problems towards whom the police direct their suspicions. Troch is sensitive to the vulnerability of children, in her portrayals of Christine’s teenage son as well as her youngest. The children become a natural part of the story, a feature often lacking in current movies. Someone Else’s Happiness paints a picture of a society where both age and social structure contributes to the psychological credibility of the story.

The most important meeting point for the villagers is the giant store, a temple of consumption where they stock up on all sorts of goods with which to fill the inner voids in themselves and their children.

In Fien Troch’s world, the close and deep communication between individuals has almost ceased, a fact which is portrayed with tragi-comic clarity in the relationship between Christine, her neurotically babbling sister, her mother, and her ever-silent father, who has retreated into his shell and is closed off from the world. Throughout the film, Fien Troch keeps a certain stylized distance from the characters of the story. The viewer is never tormented by excessive drama or intrusive close-ups.

Troch’s characters have difficulties in putting the events of their surroundings into context, but the filmmaker, with her rigorous style, helps us perceive a society suffering from a moral hangover.