WHAT IF YOUR most treasured relative didn’t even know they were yours? The premises of Steven Woutelood’s magnificent work, My extraordinary summer with Tess, a Dutch-language film with English subtitles and magnificent sprinklings of salsa will take you through the whole gamut of holiday romance tropes, down to the very issue of extinction. It’s one of those films featuring children coming of age that, like Rob Reiner’s perfect piece, Stand By Me (1986), is pure gold for anyone with a heart.
And it is here where we meet Sam, played by a superb and completely beautiful Sonny Coops van Utteren. He’s about ten years old and is on a beach holiday with his family. He’s a child who is not afraid to cast thoughts out in the world, even if they seem odd and dealing with the farting habits of herring or the emotions of dinosaurs. And he’s at an age where the idea of loss is a fascinating one, not because he’s experienced it.
A beach accident leads to a chance encounter with Tess (Josephine Arendsen) — another enormously talented young performer, a local 12-year-old, armed with a sense of independence, a pet tortoise and a penchant for salsa. She also has the kind of frankness that will make you think of the fictional character, Pippi Long-Stocking. She’s brash, moody and spontaneous, knowledgeable and capable, but riddled with complicated and important secrets.
And a tale unfolds about beach combing and thick mud, flowers and promises to strangers on the internet. It’s a story of dream chasing and catching, of the beauty and pain of aloneness and of realising that the antidote to loss is something you have to accumulate in arrears: memories.
If you’ve not yet treated yourself to pickings of this year’s European Festival, or even if you have, Tess is a film that will stay with you. It will make you laugh and cry out loud – sometimes at the same time, and is the kind of film that even your ten-year-old will take home something rich and deep that is not about fluffy entertainment or heavy issues-based activism.
- My extraordinary summer with Tess is directed by Steven Woutelood and features a cast headed by Josephine Arendsen, Suzan Boogaerdt, Sonny Coops Van Utteren, Hans Dagelet, Tjebbo Gerritsma, Jennifer Hoffman, Johannes Kienast, Guido Pollemans, Julian Ras and Terence Schreurs. It is written by Laura van Dijk based on the eponymous novel by Anna Woltz, and produced by Piet-Harm Sterk, it features creative input by Franziska Henke (music), Sal Kroonenberg (cinematography), Christine Houbiers (editing), Marina Wijn (casting) and Florian Legters (production design). It is part of the European Film Festival, and screens in Rosebank, Johannesburg at 4pm on December 7, and Brooklyn, Pretoria and the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town at 2pm on December 8.