March 29, 2023


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“When It Melts” Review: Wounding drama about childhood trauma

4 min read

In “When It Melts,” the directorial debut of Belgian actor Virle Betts, Eva, played by Charlotte de Bruyne as a withdrawn adult, stares at a photograph of herself as a 13-year-old. In the film, the child-Eva (Sundance Award winner Rosa Marchant) is a one-sided, hopeful tomboy smiling, unaware of the violent consequences of her innocence that await her. The space between these two evasives – a vast gulf not only temporal but cripplingly psychological – is painstakingly mapped out by Betances, whose tone is sure to gather terror, until it suffocates. As the story pivots between its two timelines, as one hopes to hold the key to the other’s redemption, it becomes oppressive, like a cornered bird helplessly in front of a window, the next difficult to witness.

Eva is a shy photographer’s assistant, habitually rejecting her boss’s gentle invitations for drinks after work, heading straight home to the apartment she shares with her younger sister Tess (Femke van der Steen) and a pet turtle. But her cloistered life is disrupted when Tess moves out with the help of their parents, from whom Eva is clearly estranged. One evening alone, Eva invites her on Facebook to a celebration in her childhood hometown. He clicked “locate” and began preparing for the trip: packing up the turtle, loading the car. Oh, and collecting the giant blocks of ice we saw him build in his deep freeze during the film’s terrifying prologue and storing them in a cool box for the journey.

Meanwhile, in parallel but sunny colors, Eva is enjoying bike rides and backyard pool dips with her childhood friends, Tim (Anthony Vitt) and Laurence (Mathijs Mirten). (Frederick van Zandyck’s atmospheric photography is a bit more literal as opposed to a lively, nostalgic one. then With a desaturated, cool-toned now.) She nurses a slight crush on the ringleader Tim, but the two boys are indifferent to her as a girl, and insult her when she blithely tries to stop them from fancifully luring the neighborhood kids into playing a stripping game.

Afraid of losing her place in the threesome by going out with her drunken mother and distant father, and embarrassed by her perceived simplicity with a glamorous blonde newcomer who immediately catches Tim’s eye, Eva moves on to become the boys’ producer, seducing local girls into a more manipulative version of the game. . He even provides the puzzle that forms its centerpiece: the dead man is found hanging in a locked unusual room, with nothing but puddles of water under his feet.

The film’s flashback sections are even more successful, thanks to Marchant’s excellent, ruthless turn as young Eva and her painfully accurate observation of how easily a strong desire to fit in with a peer can turn into a terrifyingly self-destructive force. Adolescence But it’s also because only here is there any restraint to the film’s overwrought and doom-laden tone, and even so, these brief moments of happiness are always undercut by Björn Eriksson’s ominous, thriller-inflected score.

Even the warmth of Eva’s connection with Laurence’s mother (Femke Heijens) — who calls the local butcher trio “The Three Musketeers” and the comforting motherly affection Eva doesn’t find at home — seems to highlight her betrayal all the more, when she The younger daughter is forced to choose between doing the right thing or protecting her son from the consequences of her actions. For a film that revolves around male-female violence, “When It Melts” is especially poised to expose the falsehood of female solidarity when self-interest — whether it’s love for a boy, petty revenge or simple peerage — is on the line.

Sharing stories of sadness, heartbreak or devastation can be a rewarding kind of connection — something that as an actor, and especially as star Felix van Groningen, “The Broken Circle Breakdown” knows a thing or two about. . And as a director, he seems keen to explore the same tragic landscapes of loss and trauma offered by Liege Spit’s Flemish literary phenomenon “Hate Smelt,” which Betten adapted with co-writer Maarten Loix.

But despite the earnest intentions, solid performances and masterful craft in the “When It Melts” show, it never quite connects. Perhaps it is Eva’s victimization that is fully defined as a woman, and by a trauma that, frustratingly and contrary to popular therapeutic belief, is not reduced by confrontation. Perhaps it is the unwavering mood of impending disaster. Or perhaps it’s the brutal conclusion, which is too narratively neat to be believable as real-life and too downer to provide any much-needed thriller-like catharsis. Whatever the reason, Eva’s plight, and Betances’ film, are harrowing rather than moving. Perhaps that’s fitting, given that this is a story where ice melts faster than hearts and frozen walls of silence built around young boys who do terrible things, no matter the cost to young girls.

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