They are very happy, the young family with whom Sea of time opens, that’s for sure. There are coarse-grained home video images of the laughing couple Johanna and Lucas (Sallie Harmsen and Reinout Scholten van Aschat) and their cheerful angelic son Kai. And we see them sailing across the Atlantic, bathed in the sun, surrounded by glistening water. Lucas emphasizes it again as the three of them lie together on the deck as the sun sets: “And now press pause and then this forever.” But then it turns out that five-year-old Kai has disappeared in the middle of the sea.
The 42nd edition of the Dutch Film Festival kicks off on Wednesday evening with Sea of time. It is one of 88 feature films, documentaries and short films that will premiere in Utrecht in the next ten days. The festive opening evening will again take place this year in the Stadsschouwburg, after the Kinepolis Jaarbeurs was twice diverted due to corona measures.
Death and mourning
The subject of Sea of time, coping with the death of a child, sets the tone for the four long fiction premieres at the festival. Death and mourning are also central to the dramas narcosis, bo and femi. “You have to go to the short films this year for cheerfulness,” said programmer Claire van Daal.
Out of four treats Sea of time, loosely based on a true story, the subject being the most straightforward. Shortly after the idyllic opening moments, Flashforwards look ahead to a prickly meeting between the couple forty years later. But the first part of the film is set in the early eighties and is mainly about how their relationship cracks in the period immediately after their immense loss.
They are well-acted, but sometimes somewhat perfunctory and literal scenes that depict various stages of mourning. There is denial: once back in the Netherlands, Johanna regularly thinks she sees Kai and wanders along the coast of Zeeland at night. There is apathy, portrayed with staring at swirling fluff on which the sunlight reflects. And there’s anger: like when Lucas sees another father with child and rambles on with a hammer during his job in demolition. What doesn’t help is that the music tells the viewer what to feel.
Only in the second part do the characters seem to become more flesh and blood. Is it possible that the main characters in that part are closer to director Theu Boermans (1950) himself? Forty years after the fatal sailing trip, Lucas, now played by Gijs Scholten van Aschat, turns out to be a successful theater director. He is working on a farewell performance full of dance, a tribute to his son who died young.
Boermans himself was artistic director of De Theatercompagnie and Het Nationale Toneel for many years and has directed dozens of major (repertoire) performances. He is also the man behind major productions like Soldier of Orange. As a film and TV director he made Golden Calf winners 1000 Rosen (1994) and series The Partisans (1995). Eleven years later he directed TV drama The chosen one.
A little more freedom
Johanna (Elsie de Brauw) has also continued with her life in the film, but in a completely different way. Gijs Scholten van Aschat and De Brauw seem to get (or take) a little more freedom with the material. There are occasional hesitations in conversations, emotions feel a little less like an illustration and more like a spontaneous reaction.
And while the first part, despite the violent events, could sometimes have been shorter, in the second part it is almost a shame that the conflict that arises between the former couple is not worked out a little deeper and longer. She doesn’t want painful memories to be publicly stirred up.
The makers choose to bring lightness to the story thanks to a twist halfway through the film. In the end it produces a crowd-friendly, well-acted and emotionally chopping, but little groundbreaking opening. For the latter you have to be at other mourning dramas in Utrecht this year.
Also read this double interview with Gijs and Reinout Scholten van Aschat: “How could you be better than me, Rein?”
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of September 22, 2022