'Confetti Harvest' ('Dorsvloer vol confetti'): Berlin Review

Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival
A spirited lead performance stuck in a butter commercial

The first feature of Dutch-Norwegian director Tallulah Schwab is an adaptation of Franca Treur's bestseller about growing up in rural and religious Zealand.

A spirited teenage girl’s strict Protestant upbringing in 1980s Zealand -- as in old Zealand, the Dutch province bordering Belgium -- isn’t suffocating so much as something of a minor nuisance in Confetti Harvest (Dorsvloer Vol Confetti), the feature debut of Dutch-Norwegian director Tallulah H. Schwab. Adapted from a popular semi-autobiographical novel by Franca Treur, this classically assembled coming-of-age drama benefits from a fresh-faced cast led by impressive 14-year-old newcomer Hendrikje Nieuwerf. A decent if not quite runaway success when it was released last September in the Lowlands, this good-looking period charmer should appeal to broadcasters, though it lacks enough of an edge to gain much traction as a theatrical item abroad.

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Blond, open-faced Katelijne (Nieuwerf) is the only girl of seven siblings in a Zealand farmer’s family in the late 1980s. The rowdy bunch attends church religiously, forced by their parents (Suzan Boogaerdt, Steven van Watermeulen), though as soon as the service ends, they all sprint out of church to get back onto their bikes to the farm. Though they would no doubt call themselves devout Protestants, Kat’s parents seem to be the kind of believers who often seem to fret more about what the neighbors might say rather than people whose spiritual needs require them to regularly attend religious services, and the film as such isn't an indictment of religion so much as a gentle nudge towards upbringings that leave some breathing room for the children.

Thankfully for Katelijne, Grandpa (Genio de Groot), that rascal, occasionally treats her to ice cream when mom isn’t looking. She might live in a world that can occasionally be harsh and even dangerous -- Kat’s little twin brothers share a frightening moment involving the dangers of a slurry tank -- but generally, Schwab and cinematographer Menno Westendorp turn Katelijne’s world into something filled with golden wheat fields moving slowly in the wind and a benevolent, ethereally milky light radiating downward from the heavens. Even a wheelbarrow filled with potatoes that has to be abandoned to save the twins from a stinky death gracefully demonstrates the force of gravity in slow motion. And as if these visual cues weren’t enough, the work of composer Fons Merkies adds another layer of unclouded, idealizing nostalgia for those slow on the uptake.

Besides some of the usual growing pains of any girl in any place or time, there’s little here that makes this story specific to Zealand, the Netherlands or even the 1980s, a song by local disco trio Mai Tai (accused of carrying demonic messages) notwithstanding. If Kat wants to escape the confines of her rather severe upbringing -- she’s told to stick to cleaning the kitchen instead of doing jobs for men such as looking after the cows -- it registers as much a personal desire as a plot necessity, since otherwise the film would risk turning itself into a feature-length commercial for farmer’s butter made by good, old-fashioned, God-fearing folk living in a sun-dappled time when everything was easier and tasted better.

Screenwriter Chris Westendorp, who recently co-wrote the small-scale but beautifully observant teenage coming-out story Boys for director Mischa Kamp, here struggles to adapt what was no doubt an episodic novel to start with into something with any dramatic momentum. Schwab certainly has an eye for sleek visuals, but it's hard to judge the extent of her directorial talents when the story sort of gently plods on, and there are neither a lot of highlights nor low lights.

The saving grace of the film is without a doubt Niewerf, 14, whose infectious joie de vivre makes it nonetheless a relatively easy task to stick with her character throughout. Not quite the same can be said of Boogaerdt and Van Watermeulen, who look like actors pretending to be serious farmers rather than the real deal, though Yannick de Waal, as Kat’s big brother and ally Christiaan, impresses as the primus inter pares of the protagonist’s small army of siblings.

 

Production companies: Column Film, NTR, Grobbendonk Films, Mollywood

Cast: Hendrikje Nieuwerf, Suzan Boogaerdt, Steven van Watermeulen, Yannick de Waal, Tom van Kessel, Genio de Groot

Director: Tallulah Schwab

Screenplay: Chris Westendorp, screenplay based on the novel by Franca Treur

Producer: Gijs van de Westelaken

Executive producer: Chantal van der Horst

Director of photography: Menno Westendorp

Production designer: Floris Vos

Costume designer: Alette Kraan

Editor: Michiel Reichwein

Music: Fons Merkies

Casting: Gwen Maduro

Sales: Mountain Road Entertainment Group

 

No rating, 93 minutes

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