Episode 4 – Bas Devos
Bas Devos’ inaugural feature Violet has yet to be released in Belgium, but has already earned him a prize at the Berlin International Film Festival, and an honorable comparison to none other than Gus Van Sant in The Hollywood Reporter. Anticipating the film’s presence at Film Fest Gent, where it’s competing for the Grand Prix, Photogénie probed the director’s cinephile grey matter and discovered that Bush was right: it’s the little things that kill. Violet may be a feature first, but its director is by no means inexperienced. Devos shot his first short Taurus in 2005, and followed it up with Pillar (2006), The Close (2007) and We Know (2009), all of which undeniably bear Devos’ narrative and visual mark. The plots of his films are largely elliptical, focusing intently on the emotional impact of certain events on a limited number of people, with little to no dialogue involved. The protagonists are followed closely throughout, often by a slowly tracking camera with a shallow range of focus, in beautifully grainy low-key environments. Taurus opens on black with the sound of stunted breathing, stopping at one ominous final breath being drawn when the title hits the screen against a red background. Flies buzz and two young boys are revealed in soft focus, framed from inside a dark cabin’s door opening. When the camera tracks in closer, we see that the children are covered in blood, the youngest anxiously holding on to a rusty piece of pipe. Even in his freshman directorial effort, it’s not hard to see where the Van Sant comparison comes into play. It’s the Van Sant of Gerry (2002), Elephant (2003), Last Days (2005) and Paranoid Park (2007), reflected in Devos’ camera closely tracking the two boys as they slowly wade their way through leafy woodland and overexposed sun-dappled pastures, dialogue replaced by a heavy sense of dread. When night falls, the two finally make it to a small village, where the short ends with the older of the two trying to call home but being too overwhelmed by emotion to speak. Devos’ exploration of grief, anxiety and despair in highly finite surroundings continues in Pillar, where the aftermath of a young man’s death is kept small. The independently roaming camera drifts from the morgue to the family home, where his parents perform everyday tasks and contemplate the event. Even smaller is the 16mm short The Close – a visual delight in which we see two brothers cleaning out a cottage in the woods that holds a lot of memories – while We Know returns ever so slightly to a more conventional narrative, as father and son respond to the illness of a grandfather over the course of one night, and the weight of mundane activities is crushingly present. Violet represents the perfect synthesis of Bas Devos’ thematic interests, dealing with a tight-knit environment’s emotional response to a teen’s death and the burden of the friend who helplessly saw it happen. This marvel of unspoken emotionality was shot by DOP Nicolas Karakatsanis, who lifted Devos’ already stellar work with light and shadow to a higher level, without touching his trademark roving camera and exquisite feel for human interaction.
Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, 2008)
On her way to a potentially lucrative summer job in Alaska, Wendy’s (Michelle Williams) car breaks down in a small Oregon town. When she’s caught stealing, her dog Lucy gets taken to a pound.Without money and desperately looking for Lucy, Wendy finds herself trapped. The only warm, humane, contact in the film comes when Wendy meets a security guard (Walter Dalton).In an act of kindness the security guard tries to hand her some money, hiding this from his wife. He gives her 6 dollars. This moment broke my heart.The meaning of this small gesture transcends the (useless) amount he gives her. He’s saying that she’s not alone.