QUICK SNAP : LIVE FROM ROTTERDAM
If there’s a sound of summer, it’s the sound of cicadas in the long grass. At the beginning of Marguerite de Hillerin and Félix Dutilloy-Liégeois debut film The Child (A Criança), the sound is a soothing soundtrack to overlay an almost Edenic pastoral existence. It is mid-16th Century, Portugal and Bela (João Arrais) is the adopted son of a rich merchant Pierre (Grégory Gadebois) and his wife Maria (Maria João Pinho). Bela is to get married soon and his prospects look very good. He’s fortunate in this that he was plucked from poverty, but with every fortune comes a price and everyone seems to have something to hide.
Bela for instance despite his upcoming nuptials is enamoured of a serving girl from the local monastery, Rosa played by Inês Pires Tavares. Everyone seems to be to some degree displaced. Rosa was stolen from Morocco; Bela’s family are French and speak French at home. Jacques (Loïc Corbery) – a friend, soldier and something of a poet – seems to be a wanderer at rest. As beautiful as the gardens and houses are, the orchards and meadows, a lingering unease grows. The sun begins to scorch and the sound of the cicadas begins to grate chainsaws.
Based on Heinrich von Kleist’s masterclass in suspense the novel The Findling, The Child is a very tightly held story. The framing of the shots is close and the locations limited. Servants hover at the margins, but this is a world apparently cut off. A merchant visits and there is news of a royal pregnancy coming to term, but the affairs of these people are intimate and cramped and surprisingly fragile. De Hillerin and Dutilloy-Liégeois keep all their elements in order, everything as neat as a pack of playing cards which they then deal out with a rhythm and that becomes hypnotic. This pastoral retreat seems suspended in time, but something will shake loose.
And of course, there is a death and the unravelling begins. Relationships are not what they seem and though there is much love, there is also jealousy and anger. Bela himself has an obviously entrancing beauty – somewhat like Terrence Stamp’s disruptive appeal in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Theorem. He is on the cusp of manhood and ought to have a great life ahead of him – at one point he is promised to be promoted and given ownership of the business – but his ambiguous status and his own unsettled heart means that something is going to go wrong.
The International Film Festival of Rotterdam (IFFR) is an online edition running from 26 January to 6 February.