I am calling you: do you hear me?

MY Daddy: on the other end of the phone line. Ronja (Lola van Zoggel), in ‘Narcosis’, on the European Film Festival South Africa, from 12 October. Photograph courtesy Imdb.

LOSS. IT’S A wound that can open at any time. An absence that will change your life forever, in ways that you cannot fathom. The complexities of bereavement are under the loupe in Narcosis, an extraordinary and deep film from the pen of Martijn de Jong. One of this year’s European Film Festival’s unequivocal highlights, it will touch you profoundly: whoever you are, you have loved and you have lost. You can see it on this year’s European Film Festival, which is online and at cinemas in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, between 12 and 22 October, in eSwatini between 20 and 22 October and Lesotho between 26 and 28 October.

John (Fedja van Huêt) is a relentless adventure seeker with a penchant for collecting unusual things. Merel (Thekla Reuten), his wife, is a medium. They live an unrestrained life of sheer love and openness. It’s about cherishing their children’s drawings on the walls as it is about telling the plight of Orpheus as a bedtime tale to their little girl, Ronja (Lola van Zoggel). It’s about honesty and permissiveness which doesn’t see parental strictures in Ronja or her slightly older brother, Boris (Sepp Ritsema).  

And, like Anatomy of a Fall, which also features on this year’s festival, within the first breath of story in this film and armed with the title itself, you have a pretty good understanding of what has happened. John is a diver. The deeper and darker the hole, the more seduced he is by its dangers. His absence, a year beyond the adventure in question, fills Merel’s life, edge to edge, and she holds onto everything, from the way in which the car doesn’t work to the haphazard nature of the house they built together, with an almost animalistic fierceness.

Both children are cast and directed with an intimate understanding of how children are. The serious earnestness of Boris, who is about 9 or 10, and his secret obsession with holding his breath underwater to stretch, test, damage himself, in his father’s absence, is terrifying, introspective and heroic, without an intended audience. And Ronja, uses a broken ‘tickey box’ in the garden as a cipher to reach her father. This brings you to the issue of Merel, with her psychic gift. No tricks or silliness are allowed to interrupt the privacy of her relationship with her absent man. Or at least, none that you, in the audience, are privy to. There is no cheapening of values in this story.

Much more than a simple tale about the psychological stages of dealing with a bad thing, this film stretches across the complex choreography one does in one’s heart when it comes to those steps and the non-sequential give and take between being a person without their person, in the world, and being functional and pragmatic in the real world which is filled with other people.

It’s a simple tale told with breath-taking honesty and the kind of question and answer, hiding-go-seek that memories are made of.

Narcosis is directed by Martijn de Jong and features a cast headed by Nola Frensdorf, Janni Goslinga, Steven Hooi, Tine Joustra, Harpert Michielsen, Thekla Reuten, Sepp Ritsema, Bo Tarenskeen, Truus te Selle, Vincent van der Valk, Fedja van Huêt, Hannah van Lunteren, Lola van Zoggel, it is written by Martijn de Jong and Laura van Dijk and produced by Trent and features creative input by Jorrit Kleijnen, Jacob Meijer and Patrick Watson (music), Martijn van Broekhuizen (cinematography), Lot Rossmark (editing), Susanne Groen and Saida van der Reijd (casting), Romke Faber (production design) and Manon Blom (costumes). In Dutch with English subtitles, it is part of the 10thEuropean Film Festival South Africa, screening at The Zone in Rosebank Johannesburg, The Labia in Cape Town, Gateway in Durban and online from 12-22 October, with satellite programmes in eSwatini from 20-22 October and in Lesotho from 26 to 28 October.

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