Filmmaker and artist Esther Polak deliberately underplays the motivation behind the experimental short The Ride, which she co-directed with Ivar van Bekkum, and which screens in Visions du Réel’s International Medium Length & Short Film Competition. Without giving anything away, the work references, and helps her come to terms with, a tragic event from her past.
The film is as much a soundscape as a visual discourse in its response to a relived experience. The visual landscape of impersonal (albeit dramatic) Google Earth satellite images counterbalances the emotional charge of a verbal exchange between a man and a woman inside a car.
The sound of an amplified heartbeat drives them (and us) towards an emotional climax, leaving enough space for our imagination to apply whichever narrative seems applicable or appropriate.
“Our work focusses on landscape and mobility,” Polak explains. “In the past we mostly worked with diverse protagonists: humans and animals, but also machines. This is our first autobiographical work. We figured some events of our personal past were part of our motivation to make the art we make.”
Polak further underlines the importance of the sound in an inventive trailer that the pair created for the film. “Your hear them (the characters) talking to each other [and] we also made it so that they listened to each other’s heartbeat… They could listen to each other, even if they do not feel like talking.”
Speaking after the film’s world-premiere at IDFA 2019, co-director Van Bekkum explained why they decided to tell the story through the artificial medium of Google Earth.
“Google Earth is really a kind of public space that we all know, but it is also a cartographic space instead of the visual space we [encounter] when you put a camera on a car,” he said. “We know from earlier projects that it really helps you to focus more on what you hear in the film. But still, because the image is much like what you see in [real life] it gives you a kind of visual relation to reality, but not a total reality.”
And for Polak, the process continues through to the work’s exhibition to an audience whose collective heart beats with a similar same sense of expectation and foreboding.
“With this autobiographical work, it turned out to be even more important for us to be open to the reactions of the audience to the film. For them the film produces a new reality that is separate from the original events that we know so well. This resulted in a much more meditative and abstract film than we thought we wanted to make.”
Also selected for Visions du Réel is Sergei Loznitsa’s feature documentary State Funeral (Latitudes programme) which explores the cult of personality that surrounded Joseph Stalin by concentrating his death in 1953. In the film Loznitsa has drawn on archive footage from the Russian State Archive, near Moscow, much of it never even before.
Another Dutch film in the Latitudes programme is Teboho Edkins’ Days of Cannibalism, which Keplerfilm minority co-produced. Explains company MD Derk-Jan Warrink, the film makes “very universal insights about cultural clashes worldwide. It’s about normal people living in the shadow of a new global economic reality.”
The Grande Angle selection Smog Town (Meng Han) illustrates the massive problems inherent within the business of environmental protection. Langfang is one of the most air-polluted cities in China, but who will pick up the tab when it comes to eliminating its pollution? The film is co-produced by Netherlands-based Jia Scheffer.
This article appears in SeeNL, published by EYE and the Netherlands Film Fund.