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Rick McGrath [Celluloid 01.08.10] Belgium movie review drama

Year: 2009
Directors: Caroline Strubbe
Writers: Caroline Strubbe
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Rick McGrath
Rating: 8 out of 10

It’s not often you come across a movie that’s freaky, creepy and depressing all at the same time. Welcome to Lost Person’s Area (LPA), a sort of psychic dead zone of seekers, escapers, narcissists and one very zany little kid.

The basic characters and a trailer of LPA have been posted here on QE, but I’ll sort of repeat it: Tessa, a nine-year-old girl, wanders through the movie, looking for bits and pieces of anything to aid her semi-autistic, artistic attempts to have her parents notice her. Marcus, Tessa's father, is a man searching to find happiness in an unconventional way of living. The day-to-day way. He’s a grasshopper and never plans ahead. Bettina, Marcus' wife, is a self-centered sensualist who runs the worker’s kitchen and likes to be the leader’s woman in front of the boys. Szabolcs, the ant to Marcus’ grasshopper, is a Hungarian engineer looking for a family far away from home, and likes the look of Bettina and Tessa when he’s not moving up the work ladder. Quite the crew. The three adults attempt to play a little love triangle until fate steps in, but the most fascinating character in this study of the lost is little Tess, who singlehandedly manages to keep you glued to the screen while the adults slouch to their eventual fates.

Aside from the antics of Tess (she could be a dropout from The Wasp Factory), two other elements should be addressed: the incredible set and the sympathetic cinematography of Nicolas Karakatsanis.

Almost all the action takes place in a series of connected portable construction sheds. They’re bad enough, but the sheds are in the middle of a huge, open, mostly barren & dusty ribbon of land that’s bordered on one side by a busy freeway and on the other by the huge insect cranes of a massive dockyard. Overhead buzz high-tension wires on two sets of power lines that stretch off in both directions. It’s a Ballardian dead zone, an area pummeled by oversized commerce into a forgotten island, a place of mean, dangerous physical work, and sorry, lost persons’ lives.

But there is opportunity in catastrophe and beauty in the ugly, and Karakatsanis, in a tour de force of camera techniques, shows us this unconcrete island in all its states, switching effortlessly from the seemingly artless intimacy of the handheld camera to beautifully composed night set pieces, with the lights of the docks forming fantastic bokehs of light behind our scheming heroes. And just like his viewers, it appears Karakatsanis cannot resist the attraction of Tess, played to spooky perfection by Kimke Desart, and while I may be wrong he seems to shoot her with amazing attention to detail and sympathy to her plight. Overall, Karakatsanis helps to add meaning to LPA in the ways he shoots each scene – sometimes highly saturated, then underexposured. I love his use of backlit shots, hand-held close-ups, sunshots, and the general drabness of certain scenes expressed in washed-out colours. It's the kind of visual tour-de-force only a real artist could accomplish.

Clocking in at 106 minutes, LPA is a dense, if longish study of disparate and self-centered characters trying to achieve some kind of personal idea of happiness, but it is also a particularly depressing, distressing story – not sad, really – about doomed relationships. The ending, after a slow build of lives falling apart, is a bit of a shocker, but even this jolt is muddied with enigma, as what appears to be on the screen is based on your automatic assumption, and another, more horrible ending may strike you later. Even though it probably didn’t happen that way. Maybe.

Writer and director Caroline Strubbe won an award for her screenplay at Cannes this year, but if you don’t speak Dutch it’s an odd movie to closely follow, as a lot of the subtitles feature wonky English, many long speeches have no subtitles, and for some odd reason every now and then the characters actually speak English – although that’s a good thing. Again, her greatest creation is Tess, and full kudos for her portrayal of an obsessed and silent child who performs shamanistic rituals of deep psychological meaning in her attempt to connect with her disintegrating family. Strubbe’s Tess is truly fascinating, and I think makes this story what it is.

Lost Persons Area. It’s an interesting, well-shot and well-acted movie with one heckuva fascinating kid, but I’m telling you right now there’s not going to be a lot of fun & games going on around you in the theatre. On the other hand, are you taking a course in existentialism? Then you’ll love it!

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Forson (10 years ago) Reply

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