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Review: My Father is an Airplane (2021)

My Father is an Airplane (2021)

Directed by: Antoinette Beumer | 90 minutes | drama | Actors: Elise Schaap, Hannah Hoekstra, Lisa Smit, Maarten Heijmans, Pierre Bokma, Ariane Schluter, Marcel Hensema, Axel Daeseleire, Thor Braun, Fahd Larhzaoui, Gürkan Küçüksentürk, Liz Snoyink, Dewi Reijs, Stefan Rokebrand, Marie-Louise Stheins

Director Antoinette Beumer lived with a trauma from her past for years, until a few years ago she decided to throw everything on the table and process the events of her childhood into a book entitled ‘My father is an airplane’. “The need to tell this story has always been there for me. It’s not for nothing that I’ve been working on it for years,” she says. The book also lends itself perfectly to a film adaptation, Beumer thought when she was only halfway through the story, and who better to do that than Beumer himself, who with films such as ‘The Happy Housewife’ (2010) and ‘Jackie’ ( 2012) had previously ventured into psychiatric themes and certainly did so without merit. “I know from reactions to those films that the urgency to break taboos in this area – when it comes to madness and the fear of it – is enormous.” But she had never been as personal as in ‘My father is an airplane’ (2021). Exactly what trauma continues to haunt her remains in the middle; the central premise is fear: what if she follows her mentally disturbed father? Whether Beumer is a writer who is filming her own book, or a filmmaker who decided to write a book – it remains a rare fact. It went too far for her to write the screenplay herself, she preferred to leave that to her husband Maaik Krijgsman. All-rounders Elise Schaap, Pierre Bokma and Maarten Heijmans were roped in for the leading roles. ‘My father is an airplane’ is the opening film of the Netherlands Film Festival 2021.

Just after Eva, played by Schaap, celebrates her fortieth birthday, her mother Willemien (Liz Snoyink) unexpectedly dies of a cardiac arrest in her sleep. Eva doesn’t want to waste too many words on it. She did not have a particularly close relationship with Willemien. And she takes on the organization of the funeral decisively and efficiently. She is a successful businesswoman in advertising for a reason. But on a subconscious level, from the moment her mother suddenly falls away, everything starts to shift with Eva. Moreover, she finds out that Willemien has concealed the necessary things from her. Especially where it concerns her father Joost (Pierre Bokma), who has been in a psychiatric institution for more than thirty years. Disturbing nightmares, optical illusions and hallucinations soon disrupt the sense of security and trust Eva has always known with her husband Peter (Stefan Rokebrand) and two daughters. A lingering sense of panic constantly rears its head. She no longer trusts herself and can barely hide and suppress her fear. So she decides to leave her family for now so she can find out if she might not be going as crazy as her father. She moves into her mother’s flat. And she – for the first time since her early childhood – seeks contact with her father, in the quiet hope that he can give her answers to the questions she has.

Beumer usually stays close to her main character and that is no different in ‘My father is an airplane’. In Elise Schaap she has a convincing lead actress, who lets the viewer sympathize and experience the emotional rollercoaster she is going through now that she is reviving all those hidden emotions from the past. Many people will recognize the fear that you will inherit the madness and flaws of (one of) your parents and it is brave that Beumer dares to break that taboo and makes himself so vulnerable. She deliberately keeps it vague what exactly happened, but thanks to the dreams, visions and short flashbacks of her youth – in which Maarten Heijmans plays the young Joost with the right dose of charm and elusiveness – we get fragments of what could have happened. . Or actually we fill that in ourselves, until we are steered in the right direction towards the end of the film. In Beumer’s best films, because of all the oppression, a touch of light-heartedness and humor usually seeps through, and we see that here too. Leave that to Sheep. It is precisely in the painful moments that there is also (black) humor and light-heartedness. The most beautiful scene is the one in which the viewer dives with Eva into the dreamy vision in which her father, when he returned from his work as a pilot at KLM, lifted Eva above his head and let it ‘fly’ over the balustrade like an airplane. That scene breathes a magic that takes you back to the time ‘when everything was still good’ – at least in Eva’s experience.

‘My father is an airplane’ has a great cast, with in addition to the fantastic Schaap, Bokma and Heijmans also Snoyink, Rokebrand, Marie-Louise Stheins, Axel Daeseleire, Ariane Schluter, Marcel Hensema (small role, but still) and the talented Thor Braun (“Eyeballs”). The only thing Beumer misses a bit with is the sometimes overly emphatic symbolism she uses: the antics of Eva’s cat that are a reflection of what is going on in her own life, the fluff and feathers that whirl around on crucial moments. A little more subtle would have made the film even more powerful, but the emotional resonance of ‘My father is an airplane’ is unmistakable. Unfortunately, it is Beumer’s last film – at least for now. She will start working at Netflix as Director Original Series Benelux, where she will develop and supervise series for the streaming platform, a position she previously held at Videoland. Hopefully those series are on the same level as (most of) her movies!

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