Arts Festival

Of wings and pillow talk

HEAVEN bound: Eva (Elise Schaap) in a still from Antoinette Beumer’s film ‘My Father is an Airplane’, on the European Film Festival South Africa, until 24 October. Photograph courtesy

LOSING A PARENT is immensely painful. Losing a parent suddenly can knock not only the wind out of you, but also a whole lot of unresolved issues into the ether. And some of them you may not want to revisit. This is how Antoinette Beumer focuses her complex, chilling work, My Father is an Airplane, and the context in which she places Eva (Elise Schaap), her central character. If you are a fan of the European Film Festival and its established ethos, this film is exactly why. It tells a complicated, psychological story which brooks no reserves in the horrors it represents, but remains self-contained as a fascinating study in the psychology of loss. And that of secrets. It is available online and without cost, as part of the 8th European Film Festival South Africa, which runs from 14 until 24 October 2021. Bookings are open.

Beautifully written with symbolic zigzags in the material that touches on acts of filicide, the work has hairpin bends that are terrifying. They’re scary because you, too, are human, and the loss of control, be it in the context of a person with dementia, or in that of a grieving daughter, is relatable. Eva has lived her life with her husband and lover, her two little girls and her career in the advertising industry, untrammelled by the dark secrets of her childhood. When her mother dies suddenly, the fabric of her existence is compromised, and she has to find herself again. Even if it means having to stand on the outside of her own life, and look dispassionately at it, as though she were a stranger.

Brilliantly cast – in particular regarding the young and current versions of Eva’s father Joost, Maarten Heijmans and Pierre Bokma respectively, as well as of course Schaap, herself – the work blends immense credibility with things that grab you by the corner of your eye and make you believe there is something else out there. As a young man, Joost was an airline pilot, with all the suaveness and sex appeal that comes with the uniform and the reputation. His little girl was consumed with the ability to ‘fly’ in his arms, her own arms outstretched like wings. And then something broke. It was such an important devastating something that as a child, Eva misremembered it until she couldn’t, any longer.

Replete with images of flight in a whole gamut of gorgeous manifestations, from a flock of birds at dusk to the wallpaper in the bedroom, this is not a film about sexual abuse in the conventional sense of the idea; rather it is a tale which touches on misogyny in a way that will take your breath away. And haunt you.

My Father is an Airplane is directed by Antoinette Beumer and is performed by a cast headed by Pierre Bokma, Thor Braun, Axel Deaseleire, Maarten Heijmans, Marcel Hensema, Hannah Hoekstra, Gürkan Kücüksentürk, Fahd Larhzaoui, Dewi Reijs, Stefan Rokebrand, Elise Schaap, Ariane Schluter, Lisa Smit, Liz Snoyink and Marie-Louise Stheins. Written by Maaik Krijsman, it is produced by Arnold Heslenfeld, Laurette Schillings and Frans van Gestel and features creative input by Joep Beving (music), Danny Elsen (cinematography), Axel Skoydal Roelofs and Lot Rossmarks (editing), Madelief Blanken (casting) and Minka Mooren (production design). In Dutch with English sub-titles, it is part of the 8th European Film Festival South Africa, screening online and without cost until 24 October 2021. Bookings are now open.

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