The Relief of Simplicity

in 46th International Film Festival Rotterdam

by Sandra Heerma van Voss

For film addicts, the International Film Festival Rotterdam sounds like a dream. Hundreds and hundreds of new titles from all over the world. All the main movie theatres in the city to pick from, from smoky arthouses to the state of the art multiplex in the centre of town. Thousands of kindred spirits – people so hooked on the short but sweet escape that movies provide that some of them take a week off from work to stay in the zone.

At its best, the IFFR visitor finds himself in a sold-out theatre watching something that it would never have occurred to him to visit had it been regularly advertised, but that stuns and surprises nonetheless; at its worst, though, the need to be there, in the dark, in some other reality is the only thing stopping him from getting up and walking out.

At this year’s edition, the urge to get up and go overtook me once – when a Lisboan dropout’s poetic musings on life and love failed to keep me awake for more than two hours. At another screening, the urge to throw up almost overtook me when I found myself trapped in what turned out to be a teenage slasher pic, complete with fountains of ketchup and a migraine-inducing synthesizer soundtrack – never again, I swore after recuperating in the bathroom, never, ever again.

That same day, though, I saw something that restored my hope in both the cinema as an artform and humankind in general.

This sounds grand, I know – expecially since the movie I am talking about is anything but. The storyline of Through the Window (Pela janela) couldn’t be simpler: a woman in her sixties in São Paulo loses her job as production manager in a small electronics firm and breaks down at home; her housemate brother José takes her along on a trip to Buenos Aires to deliver a car; they drive; she starts off grouchy, immobile with chagrin; they stop at a waterfall; the woman is quietly sprinkled back to life, and finally makes new friends in a simple hostel in Buenos Aires, even if she doesn’t speak their language.

No ketchup is needed by first-time feature director Caroline Leone, no sound effects, no bombast; never once does the script rail off into statements about global economic developments, even if her leading lady is clearly a victim of both ageism and the blunt replacing of people by machines taking place everywhere. All Leone does – and this is no small feat – is to rest her camera gently and patiently on her actors, who can relax into their characters without hiding their wrinkles, their fleshiness, their common looks.

I have not been to either Brazil or Argentina. For me, looking through the car window and seeing the landscape change over 2,200 kilometres was as big of a thrill as for Rosália, down on her luck, with no hope or expectations left. Only nature can redeem us.


Edited by Steven Yates

Sandra Heerma van Voss is a writer and film critic who works for the “Filmkrant” and daily newspaper “NRC Handelsblad”. Her debut novel, “Schijnvrouw”, appeared in January 2017.