“Zonder Meer” seen through the eyes of Alejo Franzetti, member of the preselection team of Berlinale Shorts.
The Abyss, a Lake
Sooner or later, harder or easier, that crucial moment comes unexpectedly: the indescribable experience of facing death for the first time. For most of us, it arrives abruptly sometime during childhood, in a more or a less traumatic way, via a beloved relative or someone from school. Until we face it for the first time, “death” is just a word. But then it becomes true. To live, to die. An infinite abyss has opened up. It is possible to disappear completely.
“Zonder Meer” depicts, with sensibility and intelligence, that abyss of lonely uncertainty. At a holiday campsite, a little girl faces death. Everyone around her is talking about an incident: a young boy has drowned in the lake. But the little girl doesn’t see death; she only perceives its effects and consequences.
From the very first moment of shooting a film, a question may complement (or interfere with) the instinct of every director: “What should I show”? This dialectical question, that contains of course its opposite (“What should I not show?”), will appear again in the solitude of the editing room. Although such an intrinsic, key question of cinema may seem obvious, the large number of films that insist on showing too much testify to the fact that this question is, unfortunately, rarely deeply considered.
In “Zonder Meer”, Meltse Van Coillie elaborates an answer to that central question: she absolutely knows what not to show. With a radical and sensitive mise en scène, with a precise framing, she decodes a kind of suspension (of time and space) into cinematic form. Suspension or submersion? The water of the lake flows slowly through the calm rhythm of the film. The noise of the small waves resonates in the dialogue that the little girl hears. Everything is seen through a lens of strangeness; in this film, everything sounds like a whisper.
Van Coillie proposes a question: Is it possible to see death? In “Zonder Meer”, death is off-screen, yet present in every frame. The film confidently explores a fruitful terrain of cinema: it’s about not seeing, in order to see more. There is a suspension and ambivalence of meanings: in Dutch, “Zonder Meer” could stand for “without more” as well as “without lake”. Asking us to expand the paths of our imagination, challenging our understanding, Meltse Van Coillie creates a sensitive portrait of the deep, indescribable feeling of facing death for the first time.
Death can’t be seen, but its effects can.
In the last shot of the film, the little girl lies down on the gravel path, her eyes closed. She may be trying to understand with her own body what death could mean.
An alternate synopsis for “Zonder Meer” could be the brief poem by Alejandra Pizarnik:
explicar con palabras de este mundo
que partió de mí un barco llevándome
(to understand with words of this world
that a boat has sailed taking me with it)
Alejo Franzetti is an Argentinean director based in Berlin. He is both a member of the selection committees of Berlinale Shorts and Kurzfilmfestival Hamburg.