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Letters from IFFR #1: Gritt’s Grit

Dear Tim,

Rotterdam has lift off and we’re together on this virtual ride. You’re in Amsterdam after a stretch in New York and I’m back in Brussels after living two years in Vancouver. How are you adjusting to Europe and its different perception of distances, since our mutual Covid repatriation over the Atlantic? By North American standards, we’re practically neighbours. Can you see me wave?

Covering the film festival from home gives us the comfortable possibility to plan our schedules entirely around the mood of the moment. Yet I somehow still chose to spend the morning watching two hours of video surveillance footage by opting for Lone Wolf.

Jonathan Ogilvie’s story of state sponsored terrorism opens with a split screen of four security cameras set up in and around the neighbourhood bookshop of an Australian city, where a couple is selling both anarchist literature and adult films. Conrad is a fervent fax revivalist – because analog communication leaves no digital trail – by day and a police informant by night. Winnie doesn’t entirely share his political views – “she’s into animal rights” – but she helps him tending the shop. While the couple is being observed by the state’s automated apparatus, Winnie’s little brother “monitors the human species in captivity” on old VHS tapes. The juxtapositions made by the Australian director in this adaption of Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel pushes the CCTV aesthetics to their full capacity, even allowing them to spill over into the buzzing sound design of the film. What I thought bound to be a voyeuristic and dystopian film ended up being a very entertaining morning watch, full of plot-twists jolting me awake like the caffeine in my coffee cup.

The awkward camera angles of Lone Wolf‘s surveillance cinematography was replaced by a jittery, haptic lens in Gritt, Norwegian director Itonje Søimer Guttormsen’s first feature film. I kept thinking of the cinema of Josephine Decker throughout. The close up images reminded me of the work of Ashley Connor, the DoP who worked on Decker’s early films. There’s also the obvious parallel with Madeline’s Madeline, with Gritt as a white privileged (and improvised) theatre director abusively draining her students’ difficult life experiences for the sake of performance. She has also an interest for rituals and a fragile mental health in common with Decker’s other female characters.

There’s a distinct disconnection between Gritt and the people she interacts with. Self-possessed, lonely and increasingly lost in search of a play that doesn’t seem to evolve beyond its elevator pitch. As a spectator you’re balancing between solidarity and exasperation. Houseless and without a support system, she’s clearly struggling. Her life is an upstream battle, yet she’s relentless as gritt with one T. You keep trying to make up your mind on how you feel about her while her role pivots between the prototype of the Millennial woman and a skinny blonde Don Quixote with the world of contemporary theatre as her daunting windmill. Over dinner at an estranged friends’ house, she’s told “reality catches up with most people and you just have to adjust.” And that is perhaps what she awkwardly carries about: a total refusal of life’s disillusions and injustices. Gritt is not the easiest film to start off my film marathon but it has been giving me food for thought. I’d certainly be curious to pick your brain about it, if you get the chance to see it.

To close off, I have a confession to make. I keep rewinding the film during my screenings. I know it’s bad. I know it’s altering my film experience, thwarting the full immersion I cherish so dearly.  But I can’t help it. The mere fact that the button exist makes me want to take a break to check my e-mails, have a refill or relieve my bladder that somehow never seemed so capricious in the darkness of theatres. And so I click. Be honest, do you do it too?

Inge

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Inge Coolsaet

Film critic and translator from Belgium, currently living on unceded Coast Salish territory (Vancouver, Canada)

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