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Directed by Cyrus Frisch
, I couldn’t help but thinking of the song “At the Window of Vulnerability.”
Most of the (in)action occur by a window; not only does it look out over an Amsterdam street and a river, it also acts as a screen through which a young woman (Georgina Verbaan) projects her own anxiety and guilt. We never see her engage in the world around her, which seems to be one of her biggest problems. Throughout the film, she talks on the phone to a complete stranger (Rutger Hauer), retelling to him the various events she has seen through the window, such as a junkie masturbating in the street or a mouse that commits suicide by leaping into the river. She sees desperation, but is not moved to enact any change herself; contrarily, the open spectacle of need inflicts upon her a great guilt, which she feels is unwarranted. Unable to cope, she reaches out to the stranger on the phone, a doctor in Buenos Aires, who is confronting his own doubts about his profession and his life.
’s story recalls Roberto Rossellini’s The Human Voice
(1948), based off a play by Jean Cocteau, in which Anna Magnani clings to a telephone as her only connection to a former lover she doesn’t want to let go of. Dazzle
director Cyrus Frisch, though, rarely allows us the visual access to his characters that Rossellini gave. Much of the beginning of the film is a black screen, interspersed with brief glances of life through the windows, all the while the two voices communicate with each other unseen by anyone. Taking on a particular challenge (for actors and audience alike), both Verbaan and Hauer do a commendable job conveying at once a sense of alienation from the world, yet a strange connection to this ambiguous presence on the other end of the line.
Director Frisch (who infamously made the first feature-length shot on a cell phone, 2007’s Why Didn’t Anybody Tell Me It Would Become This Bad in Afghanistan
) plays his concept to the fullest. Not only does he restrict our knowledge of the characters (particularly their lives and backgrounds, and in the case of Hauer, even his face), but he also leaves it up to the audience to decide whether Verbaan’s observations are fact or mere conjecture. It’s a maddening film to watch — as it is intended to be, which is neither a justification or endorsement, but rather a part of the film’s conceit which is impossible to ignore. Just as Verbaan watches through her window without knowing the people she watches, we watch the screen in ignorance of the characters. As a moral and aesthetic instigator, Frisch is certain to get most of the audience’s goat to some degree, but after a while his approach starts to feel more tiresome than effective.
Screens Fri, 5/1 at 8pm. Currently without U.S. distribution.