Film Review: VIOLET (Belgium/Netherlands)

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violet.jpg15-year-old Jesse is the only one who witnessed the stabbing of his friend Jonas. Now he has to face his family and friends form the BMX riders crew and explain the unexplainable – how he feels about it.

Director: Bas Devos
Writer: Bas Devos
Stars: Cesar De Sutter, Koen De Sutter, Mira Helmer

Review by Gilbert Seah
Bas Devos has been described by the film’s publicist, from his film VIOLET as a young Bela Tarr. Though both directors share their love for long takes, there are also differences and similarities. For one, VIOET has a running time of only 81 minutes compared to the lengthy Bela Tarr epics.

VIOLET tells the story of the aftermath emotional trauma caused on 15-years old Jesse (Cesar de Sutter) when he witnesses the meaningless killing of his friend Jonas in a mall. The entire horrible incident is captured on close circuit television, and viewed by the mall’s security as well as the audience. Director Devos puts the audience in voyeur mode. But what is seen is from the point of view of what is in front of the camera rather than what is at the end of it.

Another segment, worthy of mention has the camera placed outside Jesse’s house at night time. From the figures in the windows that are lit up, the audience can see what is happening with the three family members – a sort of a more ingenious take of the split screen technique.

The most stunning visuals are shot in the woods where Jesse and his BMX rider friends ride their bikes across the moguls. The sight of the bikes and riders jumping up and down, without showing the ground will well be remembered from the film.

The killing is seen in a long take, as observed by an unseen security guard (who even goes and returns from a break). Afterwards, it shifts to the activities and emotional trauma of Jesse.

What is important is that Jesse feels guilty that he did nothing to intervene with his friend’s stabbing. His friends and family cannot understand why Jesse’s behaviour either. His guilt is heightened by one if his friends ostracizing from his bike group, saying to him that he cannot be one of them. The deed results in the additional odd behaviour of his parents (Raf Walschaerts and Mira Helmer). His father shows him sudden bursts of affection like hugging and kissing while his mother acts as if nothing has happened, as evident in the scene where the two eat popcorn and laugh, watching TV.

The film is characterized with long takes and imagery that is often hazy, distorted, colour saturated and blurry. Perhaps they are used to emphasize Jesse’s the mental state.

The film contains intervals of silence. The film title is taken from the musical group Deafheaven’s song “Violet”. In contrast, the film contains a heavy metal song in a set-piece when father and son attend a Deafheaven concert, where the spectators are seen (out-of-focus) jumping up and down.

VIOLET has an open ending in which there is a 6-minute long, long take that is both mesmerizing and puzzling.

Though this art house piece might be too slow and artsy for commercial audiences, Devos’ film is nevertheless fascination in its look, presentation and execution. That is perhaps the reason this 2014 film took a while, but at least got commercial distribution.



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