IDFA opens with a Dutch debut which speaks eloquently about what it’s like to never be truly at home
Dir. Niki Padidar. Netherlands, 2022. 72 mins.
For her first feature, director/writer Niki Padidar tries to express the emotions of otherness which accompany displaced people their entire lives. Ambitious yet intimate, emotionally wide-ranging yet slight in physical scope, this tender documentary opened IDFA’s 35th edition in Amsterdam. It is an unusual mix of personal yearning and restlessness with a desire to be understood – its four central female figures are honest, casually heart-breaking voices of the eternally different.
This is less about Dutch racism than understanding how a person can have left their true self behind, never to return.
An admirable formal daring accompanies this thoughtful personal statement, making this concise doc a natural fit for festival – and educational – play. You could draw a line from All This Panic to All You See, although the stakes are higher and the execution far more muted and deliberately artistic. The four women, one of who is Padidar (in voice, and represented by a young actor), have all come to the Netherlands as refugees at varying points in their lives, attempting to fit in. A child, a teenager, a woman and Padidar herself bring viewers to the realisation that will never happen: ‘I don’t belong here, but I don’t belong anywhere else either.’
These aren’t talking heads, though. Padidar starts the film with a child against a white background, fidgeting, and looking to the lens: later we will realise this girl represents the director herself, who came to the Netherlands from Iran when she was seven years-old. Another woman, the brutally honest Khadji, left Somalia for the Netherlands some 27 years ago. Hanna is a teenager from Ukraine. And six year-old scene-stealer Sofia, with her no-front-teeth, has just come from England (she was not there for long, given her tentative grip on the language) and hates Amsterdam, missing her friends.
Padidar films them head-on, puts them – literally– in concrete boxes, as if they were specimens for the audience to walk by at a gallery. Not that All You See is boxed throughout; frequently, Padidar cuts to video footage from her grandfather’s home in Iran, recreated in a model, or puts her young self in a hall of mirrors, while Khadji is shot walking alone down the suburban streets where she is always likely to be asked, in so many words, what she is doing there.
There are funny moments in All You See – Khadji doesn’t feel Dutch, but has a very forthright manner, and is brutally direct after years upon years of answering such questions as whether she tans in the summer. Yet the overlying emotion the film provokes is a sadness, a feeling that the world should be able to do better by now: this is less about Dutch racism than understanding how a person can have left their true self behind, never to return.
Khadji talks about not wanting to make people feel uncomfortable: how she can’t understand a colleague’s heartbreak over the death of a pet ferret when she saw her family beheaded in front of her — but she can never say that out loud. Padidar discusses a painful incident at an airport. Young Sofia sits on a train with her class, trying to make friends unsuccessfully, before her classmates tell her how to fit in. Lovely Hanna thinks she knows how to make friends now, because she has studied it on TV, but she yearns for her pet bird Andrew, left behind. ‘Being new, you get a second chance,’ she says, optimistically, but the loneliness seems etched in her open soul. Like the others, she is always on the outside
All You See is proof that the biggest of themes can be examined in the smallest of stories. It’s a film that whispers incessantly what it’s like for ‘others’ through its 72 minutes, and sometimes cries from the heart – and not just in the poignant video footage of a younger Hanna at home, singing to the forever-lost Andrew.
Production company/international sales: mint film office, firstname.lastname@example.org
Producer: Menna Laura Meijer
Screenplay: Niki Padidar
Cinematography: Jean Counet, Jefrim Rothuizen
Editing: Nikki Padidar, Albert Markus, Festus Toll
Music: Fin Greenall