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A carefree octet of schoolchildren push the boundaries of what is morally permissible.

   
We

Naked rebellion

 

Just as the Internet becomes a more dominant force in our lives, a film comes along – available on Amazon Prime – that exposes the evils of the medium. As a new generation comes to grips with nuclear sabre-rattling, economic uncertainty, environmental catastrophe and biological annihilation, their childhood is ripped from beneath them.

 

Rene Eller's Dutch drama is as artful as it is disturbing. It opens on an idyllic high as eight close-knit friends, united by their youth, hormones and a glorious summer, cycle round the picturesque byways of Wachtebeke, a Belgian-Dutch border village. Divided into four chapters, in which Simon, Ruth, Liesl and Thomas tell their side of an increasingly sinister saga – Rashomon-style – the film gradually divulges its hand. The product of privileged, bourgeois homes, the carefree octet reveals a total social irresponsibility. Subtitled A Summer Odyssey in Four Parts, Eller's cautionary tale ominously states that it is “based on true stories.” Most fiction has a basis in some form of truth, and one prays that the incidents chronicled in Elvis Peeters’ original (controversial) novel have been amplified for dramatic effect.

 

Unlike, say, the reprobates in Bertrand Blier’s Les Valseuses (1974), these miscreants have been raised in the Internet age and are savvy to its content and economic possibilities. Bent on enjoying everything that the good life can provide, the school friends decide to set up their own porn site, while the girls think nothing of selling their bodies for €100. It soon becomes clear that Thomas (Aimé Claeys) is the ringleader, and Simon (Tijmen Govaerts) – who is besotted with Femke, but freely makes love to the other girls – questions the extremes to which Thomas is steering the pack. As each new chapter unfolds, we become privy to worse transgressions, as events are recounted from another’s perspective. And as all this is framed by a court hearing, we know that something awful has happened…

 

The directorial debut of Rene Eller, the film is shockingly realistic. The eight leads seem game for anything, including ample nudity and explicit sexual shenanigans, some of which is unsimulated. All the more remarkable is that the young actors are non-professionals, yet bring a naturalism to the screen that would confound more experienced players. A stark commentary on the climate in which the millennial generation has evolved, the film can be viewed as nothing less than a nihilistic nightmare. Yet in spite of the callous acts carried out by Eller’s protagonists, he suggests that the blame cannot be entirely parked at their door. As Thomas is about to carry out one more unspeakable act, he rails against a possible paedophilic predator and claims that his latest deed is, “reality art.” For him, it’s just another joke in his arsenal of cruel pranks. There’s something rotten in the state of Belgium, and the fruit is putrid from the inside out.

 

Original title: Wij.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Aimé Claeys, Tijmen Govaerts, Pauline Casteleyn, Maxime Jacobs, Friso van der Werf, Folkert Verdoorn, Laura Drosopoulos, Salomé van Grunsven, Lieselot Siddiki, Gaia Sofia Cozijn, Tom Van Bauwel, Pieter Embrechts, Karlijn Sileghem.

 

Dir Rene Eller, Pro Rene Eller and Julius Ponten, Screenplay Rene Eller, Ph Maxime Desmet, Pro Des Myrte Beltman, Ed Wouter van Luijn, Costumes Julia Klok.

 

Pragma Pictures/New Amsterdam Film Company/A Team Productions/Umedia/BNN-VARA/Vice Benelux/Habbekrats/uFund-Artsploitation Films.

100 mins. The Netherlands/Belgium. 2018. DVD and Blu-Ray Rel: 9 March 2020. Cert. 18.