Dir/scr. Caroline Strubbe. Belgium/The Netherlands/Hungary. 2009. 109 mins
Random individuals are challenged by tragic circumstances in Lost Persons Area, an intriguing but fatally longwinded feature debut from writer director Caroline Strubbe.
Influenced by the films of Wim Wenders and Michelangelo Antonioni, Strubbe uses an oblique story to explore issues of loneliness and alienation within an unconventional family unit. Strubbe reveals a reflective talent, more concerned with capturing little moments of human behaviour than telling a story. Events drift along and mainstream viewers are likely to find it a long, slow journey towards nowhere unexpected. Marrying her skills to a more urgent, accessible narrative could produce a much more marketable venture in the future but at present Lost Persons Area seems strictly a festival prospect.
Returning to filmmaking after a nine year absence, Strubbe has taken her initial inspiration from a picture by Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt depicting a group of women seated on a bench beneath a sign stating Lost Persons Area. The characters in her film are also lost or adrift, seeking to make the most of their circumstances and generally unable to express their feelings or frustrations.
Marcus (Sam Louwyck) is an engineer who works as the foreman of a group of workers who maintain power lines. He is passionately devoted to Bettina (Lisbeth Gruwez) who runs the canteen despite scant culinary skills. Peaches stuffed with tinned tuna is one of the delights that she serves up to their daughter Tessa (Kimke Desart). The girl has started to skip school, spending her days accumulating collections of pencils and other discarded items.
When Marcus decides to hire Hungarian engineer Szabolcs (Zoltan Miklos Hajdu) we know that the dynamic of their lives will change. Given that Marcus has a job filled with danger we also have a fairly strong suspicion of where tragedy might strike.
There are echoes of Paris, Texas (1984), Five Easy Pieces (1970) and even the fatalistic writings of James M Cain in Lost Persons Area here, but the predictability of events is clearly not a concern for Strubbe. Her interest seems to lie in creating an air of mystery rather than seeking to offer clarity or easy explanation. The viewer is left to question some developments or remain baffled as to why neither parent seems particularly concerned by the strange behaviour and frequent absences of their nine year old daughter.
There are no confrontations, no boiling over of emotions or bruising showdowns. Life in this film is a matter of blundering through, sensing the subtle changes in mood, drawing your own conclusions and then moving on.
Strubbe does create some tender scenes in Bettina’s longing for a more normal life and the possibilities that arise from her attraction to the sympathetic Szabolcs. She is an entirely different person in the one night that they socialise together at a bowling club. She also depicts Tessa with an offbeat quirkiness as we see her scooping up a dead rabbit from the road or arranging the various items in her collections. You sense a whole different film in Bettina’s story that Strubbe hints at but never fully explores.
The one standout performance in the film comes from Zoltan Miklos Hajdu who invests Szabolcs with the gentle charm of a vulnerable romantic and makes him the most appealing character of them all.
(33) 1 48 70 73 18
Zoltan Miklos Hajdu
Rik Van Uffelen