Directed by: Rene Eller | 100 minutes | drama | Actors: Pauline Casteleyn, Aimé Claeys, Gaia Sofia Cozijn, Axel Daeseleire, Tom de Vreese, Joke Devynck, Laura Drosopoulos, Pieter Embrechts, Gonny Gaakeer, Tijmen Govaerts, Mattijn Hartemink, Filip Hellemans, Maxime Jacobs, Michael Pas, Gert Portael, Barbara Sarafian, Lieselot Siddiki, Karlijn Sileghem, Tom Van Bauwel, Friso van der Werf, Salomé van Grunsven, Dominique Van Malder, Vincent Van Sande, Christine van Stralen, Steven van Watermeulen, Folkert Verdoorn, Thierry Wybauw
How do you keep boredom from your body? We literally did that by attacking her.’ Elvis Peeters – pseudonym of the Flemish musician and writer Jos Verlooy – caused quite a stir with his 2009 novel ‘We’. A sticker on the book already warns the reader about the explicit content: the eight young people that Peeters presents in his book are completely derailed from a moral point of view. ‘We are always pushing our boundaries. You have to reach boundaries and then push them.’ These four boys and four girls think they are invincible and untouchable, until disaster strikes. But whether that will change them forever remains to be seen. Dutch filmmaker René Eller ventured into a film adaptation of ‘We’ and tried to capture the transboundary and all-conquering hedonism of a generation. The fact that he only partially succeeds in this may also have to do with certain shortcomings in the book.
‘We’ (2018) is told in four parts, each time from the perspective of a different member of the group of friends, and the demoralization is always taken a step further. Each part of the four-part series starts on the same summery June 10 in the Flemish village of Wachtebeke, just across the border with the Netherlands (which is why half of the young people are Dutch and the other half Flemish). It soon becomes clear that they are already quite aware of their bodies, that of the opposite sex and what they can do with their bodies. On top of a viaduct, the girls challenge the passing motorists. In the first chapter ‘Simon’ all this is still quite innocent (Eller does not yet show what actually happens, and the horrific consequences), but by the time we arrive at the third chapter ‘Liesl’ we know that these young people know no compassion. The young people come together in a remote place, where they experiment with sex and their own and each other’s bodies. It doesn’t take long before they decide to go a step further and make sex videos of each other, which they offer on a professional website for a fee to a target group of mostly respected and much older men. Thomas (Aimé Claeys), the self-proclaimed leader of the group, states that there is a way to earn even more money even faster: by letting the girls sell their bodies as prostitutes.
In doing so, he unwittingly initiates the loss of the friendship: the young people become increasingly reckless and violent. There is no question of any kind of empathy – towards anyone. Even the death of one of them, after an equally horrific and bizarre ‘accident’ in which an icicle plays the leading role, does not appear to be able to slow down their uncontrollable desire for sensation, lust, money and power. Thanks to the narrative structure, in which each chapter looks back and forward with a different perspective, we know right from the start that it will lead to a lawsuit. You would think this immoral behavior should not go unpunished.
Just like in the novel, in the film ‘We’ style takes precedence over substance. Those who want to be shocked by completely derailed youngsters can have their fun: Eller shows the most explicit scenes without batting an eyelid and it is almost impossible to look away. Three extreme scenes really put viewers with any kind of sensitivity to the test. Just as Peeters does in the novel, Eller records the moral decay of this group of sixteen and seventeen year olds without passing judgment on it. He registers it, that’s all. This makes ‘We’ just as cold and distant as its protagonists. It is impossible for the viewer to empathize with them. Who are these young people really and why do they behave like this? We only get fragments of their background (only of the four after whom a chapter is named, of the other four we only know their name), the relationship with their parents (who, unlike the youngsters, are all well-known actors are played) is mentioned at a minimum. It seems that in any case Thomas comes from a not too warm nest, but with the other three that we follow closely, not much more is going on than the average teenage troubles. Where their unhinged attitude comes from is a great mystery to which we want an answer but can’t get it.
On the other hand, however, the distance that is kept is also the strength of ‘We’. Because the disturbing behavior of the young people and the resulting atrocities come across extra hard because of the mercilessly blunt way in which they are portrayed. Moreover, the lack of an explanation for their behavior makes it difficult to erase it from your retina. And by letting so much immorality take place in a sun-drenched, idyllic Flemish village, the contrast only intensifies. This film can be seen as a fascinating but pitch-black portrait of a generation, or as a disturbing account in which more attention should have been paid to the development of the story and the characters than to portray moral decay as explicitly as possible. in young people. You will have an opinion about ‘We’ anyway, because it is a film that leaves its mark.