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45th #IFFR: Restyling Rotterdam festival seems mostly cosmetic.

The kick-off of the 45th episode of the International Film Festival Rotterdam is in any case thick and fast. Then I do not mean that Maxima is also of the party, but the choice of Beyond Sleep as the opening film. The classic novel by W.F. Hermans, adapted to his own hand by Boudewijn Koole in Rotterdam-worthy fashion. Furthermore, on the eve of this debut edition of new director Bero Beyer: expectations, questions, curiosity. Will IFFR get the refresh that according to some much needed? We find out.

Experience Cinema

But first we enjoy the way Hermans' ingenious novel Never sleep again, about the insight that we are mosquitoes in an indifferent universe, has become pure cinema thanks to Koole's rigorous approach. Disgustingly sink your teeth into raw, still-living fish. The enticing, dark menace of a fast-flowing river, the disorientation in the wide, inhospitable Norwegian tundra landscape. It happens to young geologist Alfred (Reinout Scholten van Aschat) during an ambitious but increasingly futile trek in northern Norway.

What is particularly strong is that Koole (made a big impression at the time with Kauwboy) left much of the classical dramaturgy and obvious conflict structure behind when filming this survival trip. Instead, he crawls into Alfred's head, as it were, not with voice-overs or anything like that, but by making everything very close and physical. The near drowning in a mud puddle, the distrust of his teammates, the getting lost, the loneliness: the trials are very tangible.

That journey through that horribly beautiful, indifferent landscape increasingly turns into Alfred's struggle with himself and his attempts to prove himself. It culminates in an unexpected, touchingly lucid and human moment of redemption. Pure experiential cinema and philosophical contemplation in one.

Tig days

Now to the good intentions of Bero Beyer, who also previously championed auteur cinema as a film producer. Barely six months as festival director is probably still too short to make a definitive mark. Most prominent so far is his restyling of the somewhat dilapidated Tiger competition. This year just one clear winner instead of three (but in addition a Special Jury Prize). The competition of 15 titles reduced to a concise eight, personally selected by Beyer. "You can blame me if you don't like it." Eight titles, that means each Tiger gets its own festival day with premiere, talk show and, if possible, other attention-grabbers. Good plan. Too bad those special Tiger days don't stand out yet in the programme listing and other promotion.

Nice though that the Tiger competition also kicks off on Thursday with striking homegrown work. It turns out that even History's Future by Fiona Tan is a kind of search for our place in the world, just as Beyond Sleep So, but very different.

Creative chaos

The remaining restyling of the festival, with its division into four sections, each with its own profile and content, is at first glance mainly cosmetic. Especially since behind those four blocks lies the familiar maze of films and sub-themes, lovingly referred to by the festival director as "creative chaos". Running right through it all is this year's overarching theme: ID Check. Beyer on this: "Society is constantly changing. In this process, we need to look at ourselves, how we interact with others and how we can build a society together. The ongoing flow of migrants and the accompanying population increase that are the reality of everyday life provide a greater challenge than, say, the monetary crisis. During IFFR, within the overarching theme of ID Check, space will be provided for artistic expressions that approach this fact from a cinematic angle."

Festival at home

By the way, did you know that you don't have to come to Rotterdam to still get a taste of the festival? Just like last year, there is IFFR Live, with 5 premieres in 45 European cities, where Q&As can also be followed. In the Netherlands in Amsterdam, Arnhem, Breda, Delft, The Hague, Deventer, Groningen, Leeuwarden, Maastricht, Nijmegen, 's Hertogenbosch, Utrecht and Wageningen. Best of all: even at home. The VoD platform Festival Scope collaborates with IFFR and makes the Live screenings accessible online. A ticket costs 4 euros - hurry, as numbers are limited.

Leo Bankersen

Leo Bankersen has been writing about film since Chinatown and Night of the Living Dead. Reviewed as a freelance film journalist for the GPD for a long time. Is now, among other things, one of the regular contributors to De Filmkrant. Likes to break a lance for children's films, documentaries and films from non-Western countries. Other specialities: digital issues and film education.View Author posts

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