Bon Voyage (2011)
Directed by: Margien Rogaar | 85 minutes | drama | Actors: Anneke Blok, Hans Croiset, Mirre Balke, Reinout Bussemaker, Frank Lammers, Casper van Rijnberk, Scyler Eijgermans, Lotje van Lunteren, Tom van Kessel
The telefilm ‘Bon Voyage’ by Margien Rogaar is a film that surprises you. It is a remarkably versatile and intimate drama, certainly for its length, in which the patient viewer slowly but surely starts to feel part of the family and will be able to recognize himself and the people around him in the characters. Although the story initially seems a bit fragmented because there is actually no choice for one central center of gravity – where you would expect this, given the approaching end of grandpa -, this actually turns out to be a refreshing, welcome choice. ‘Bon Voyage’ is not limited to one trip, but makes many.
From the moment, and that is already after a few minutes, that it becomes clear that Grandpa is terminal, you expect as a viewer that everything will revolve around Grandpa from that point on. Or he is taken on a journey to experience a kind of magical-realistic ending in the form of a road movie. Either the whole family stays at home and takes care of Grandpa and works together towards a heavy, tear-jerking finale. But things are different. Yes, the holiday is cancelled, and the next morning, father dear Fred (Reinout Bussemaker) and his youngest daughter Jasmijn (Scyler Eijgermans) are on grandfather (Hans Croiset)’s doorstep to make him tea or coffee and keep him company. And mother Tine (Anneke Blok) wants to do the administration and arrange everything for him. But grandpa is not pleased with this. He tells his daughter not to touch his things with her “tengels” and makes it clear that he just wants to take care of himself as long as he is alive.
And that’s that. Tine immediately chooses an opposite route – that of ignoring and hiding – because she can’t stand that her father doesn’t let her into his life, even at this stage, and wants to do everything the way he wants. So Tine throws herself into clearing the shed or dreams of the carefree, passionate life her neighbors live. But while Trine’s urges to tidy up are quite interesting within the context of the story, the episodes with and with the neighbors – where there is a hint of a possible affair with the neighbor (Frank Lammers) – have little added value.
The two teenage children of Fred and Tine, Anouk (Mirre Balke) and Jochem (Casper van Rijnberk), seem to be hardly affected by the news and also focus on their own problems. Somehow this is strange: A tragic fact has been introduced into the children’s lives – and into the story of the film – and they seem to barely pay attention to it. The parents do not talk about it with the children, they do not all live towards the day of death, and afterwards it is impossible to see what impact this has had on Anouk and Jochem. On the other hand, teenagers often react differently to these kinds of situations and sometimes such dramas seem to pass them by. Maybe they just find it hard to deal with. In addition, it could also be that they are subconsciously influenced by the news and place more weight on their separate friendship and love bonds that they are chasing. But even if this were not the case, the storylines of Jochem and Anouk are still worthwhile.
Although Casper van Rijnberk as Jochem initially seems to go through life very expressionless and with literary word use, this turns out to fit well with his character. He is introverted, a thinker and a dreamer, and on the contrary, he feels intensely. And he is simply occupied with language: he constantly walks around with a dictaphone into which he records all his thoughts and feelings. Jochem values his friendship with Guido, his best friend with whom he built a tree house, but he will discover that friendships can be fragile and nothing lasts forever. Anouk, in turn, seems to be only after one thing: her defloration. She looks in love at almost every (young) man she meets, hoping for a special, loving night together, and the chance to become a woman. But she will also notice that reality does not always meet expectations and that growing up has more to do with feelings and insights.
In the first half of the film, the stories of the children (and the rest of the family) are simply interesting, but it is only in the second half that they become really meaningful and sometimes even magical. One such magical moment occurs between Jochem and his father, who lie side by side in the tree house, gazing at the stars and briefly bridging the generation gap while remembering how much fun the friendship between the two would have been if the father had as old as the son would have been. A beautiful melancholic moment, which at the same time manages to expose the soul of the son and that of the father.
But the best moments, and they are almost all worth gold, are those between Grandpa Bob and his granddaughter Jasmijn, who now spend a lot of time together because Jasmijn wants to know everything about death and wants to be close to her grandfather. They are wonderfully beautiful, endearing, cute and funny moments between these two people – old and young – who have a special relationship. Jasmijn doesn’t understand that people can just “fall to pieces” when they die, as Grandpa says, and certainly not that they can just burn people. The latter is the reason for Grandpa to take his granddaughter – in a funny scene, in which the punch line is worked for a long time – to the crematorium to have it explained by the funeral director himself. The scenes in Grandpa’s vegetable garden are also very beautiful. In one, he appears to be on the brink of collapse, bringing back memories of Marlon Brando’s classic death scene in “The Godfather.” Another scene, then, in which little Jasmine explains to Grandpa how she will always be able to think of Grandpa when he is dead, will certainly cause moist eyes and lumps in throats. The young Scylar Eijgermans also acts in these scenes so disarmingly and cutely – with those gaping holes between her teeth and her large eyes – that you as a viewer are completely defenseless. As a (child) actress already the discovery of the year.
Finally, the ending manages to subtly weave the different stories together without appearing contrived or pretentious. Filmmaker Margien Rogaar has also wisely chosen not to have literally everyone come together in one big emotional ending. No, each character has gone through its own development and also deserves its own ending. Of course it is almost impossible for a film of less than an hour and a half to give each character sufficient attention and depth and at the end you as a viewer may wish you could have spent longer with these people. Still, the film does a lot (good) in its time. ‘Bon Voyage’ has many facets. It’s not just about grandpa or death. It is also a film about love, sex, friendship, pride, and growing up. Rogaar also knows how to say something sensible about all these things. Not a bad performance.