Review: World of Still (2005)


Director: Elbert Van Strien | 30 minutes | action, drama, thriller, short film, fantasy | Actors: Fedja van Huêt, Ellen de Man Lapidoth, Han Kerckhoffs, Daan Schuurmans, Sacha Bulthuis

Elbert van Strien is a filmmaker to keep an eye on. Someone with original, imaginative ideas, who also knows how to give shape to them in a visually appealing way. He won a Golden Calf for his short graduation film ‘De Marionettenwereld’, his (short) films ‘The Hidden Face’ and ‘Forbidden Eyes’ won several international (festival) prizes, and for his experimental Kafkaesque thriller ‘Wereld van Stilstand’, which before the film ‘Valse Wals’ by Mark De Cloe was shown in the cinemas, he received a Golden Calf nomination. In terms of form, this last project goes back to Chris Marker’s’ La Jetée ‘, as this is a photo film, while Van Strien himself (also) mentions Resnais” L’Année dernière à Marienbad ‘as a great cinematic source of inspiration, probably because of the alternations and hybrids in that film between fantasy, reality, and present and past, and the general power of the mind and memory of man. But the most remarkable thing about “World of Stillness” is the shape.

This is not a conventional, literal, moving film, but a story told through static photos; a method that seems to go completely against the essence of film. However, it did not become a photo album for various reasons. The first is that there is indeed movement at the end of the film. Suddenly we see the girlfriend of Fedja’s character in bed blinking and laughing, which is comparable to the only scene in “La Jetée” in which movement occurs. The second reason is that some camera work is suggested by zooming in or sliding over the photos using the computer. There are also many other interesting tricks used to liven up the whole, such as blends, and spontaneous collages. This makes the film a bit more dynamic, because, no matter how original the form is, and how effective the narration often turns out to be, it takes a while for the viewer to get used to the sequence of static photos. And every added (illusion of) movement is then included.

Incidentally, the effectiveness of the assembly is remarkable. Now you can see how important and versatile mounting is. In the scenes with Fedja and the two (potential) murderers, you see how well action and tension can be generated by a skilful sequence and selection of the photos. A shot of a startled Fedja lying in bed, followed by a low angle shot of the two raincoat-clad men at his bed, sticking pistols in his face. Then an extreme close-up of his eye, then the pistols up close. And movement is sometimes suggested by minute movement changes between shots, such as in stop-motion animation, or by portraying movement through a blur or ghost, using the camera’s slow shutter speed. Van Strien, with his cameraman Guido Van Strien, has regularly experimented with this, as a result of which we encounter “Koyaanisqatsi” -like shots of light that manifests itself as stripes or spots. The compositions of the shots themselves are almost without exception wonderful. Beautiful black-and-white shots of a Fedja rising into his architecturally impressive environment, with buildings that are mainly located in Brussels. You can frame almost any picture and hang it on your wall or that of a museum.

The environment is imposing and threatening, and Fedja’s character feels this working through to his soul, not just in a literal sense. His old college friend (Daan Schuurmans) has become a successful writer, while he himself deserves it earlier. He does not understand, and his world comes to a standstill, which justifies the form of the film, and cannot just be labeled a fun gimmick. Fedja’s character becomes psychologically entangled and gets bogged down in a Kafkaësk fight, of the individual against the “system”. This gradual madness is subtly played out by Fedja, which must not have been easy in this form. ‘Wereld van Stilstand’ has become an exceptionally fascinating arthouse film that, after some ‘boarding time’, nevertheless manages to bind the viewer to themselves by the increasing tension in the story, making the film not only a nice idea, but a whole. successful project.

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