R U There -- Film Review

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CANNES -- The films in Un Certain Regard seem to be holding a special sub-competition of their own, to see which will have audiences checking their watches most often. The topical story and strong leads in David Verbeek's "R U There" feel like a great short stretched into a feature that cannot sustain the tension for which it so earnestly strives.

The best target audience for this film about a young gaming champ should be the enormous gaming/"Second Life" community. Yet gamers, for one, inhabit virtual worlds that are far faster and far more action-filled than the slow-paced, moody "R U There." Ominous music throughout sets up a thriller, but it's actually a "boy meets girl but does better with her avatar" story.

Professional gamer Jitze (Stijn Koomen) is in Taipei for a tournament. A terrible accident he witnesses and a sore muscle take their toll on his psyche and body and he's forced to withdraw from the tournament for a few days. While resting, he meets Min Min (Ke Huan-Ru), a beautiful, older woman who sidelines as a prostitute and, in Jitze's case, a masseuse.

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Wanting to spend more time with Min Min, Jitze even pays her to take him with her for a weekend in the country with her family. Ke's Min Min is intriguingly vague and although she seems attracted to Jitze, she acts maternal and standoffish. Only when their avatars meet in the virtual world of "Second Life" is she openly flirty and physical with him.

Lennert Hillege's camera sticks tight to Koomen, who offers an assured, nuanced performance: he is both hard to read and vulnerable. Whether Jitze is alone or wandering through the gray, bleak streets of Taipei, Verbeek drives home the point that gamers, like most of us who are glued to our computers, even when playing or communicating with others are always cut off from actual human contact. In fact, Jitze, a prize-winning master soldier in game life is paralyzed before real suffering, the accident victim, and cannot even offer help.

The serenity that pervades their "Second Life" environments -- rarely if ever yet seen on the big screen -- wonderfully renders yet another way we can suspend time and even life nowadays. To boot, while Jitze's avatar is his gaming soldier self, Min Min's is a silver-haired, bright-eyed knockout with Western features. Again, life is easier/better in a fake world you create than in the real one.

What is novel, though, is seeing gaming competitions for those unfamiliar with them. Surrounded by screaming fans, the teams strategize their plays beforehand, dress in matching running suits and are even treated for sports injuries like real athletes. Yet once the match begins, they could just as easily be playing alone at home, over the Internet.

Venue: Festival de Cannes -- Un Certain Regard
Production: IDTV Film, VPRO, Les Petites Lumieres
Cast: Stijn Koomen, Ke Huan-Ru, Tom de Hoog, Phi Nguyen, David Davis, Pavio Bilak, Eugene Callegari, Tsai Jie De
Director: David Verbeek
Screenwriter: Rogier de Blok
Producer: Frans van Gestel
Director of photography: Lennert Hillege
Production designers: Wang Chih Hui, Lin Ing Chyang
Music: Lim Giong
Editor: Sander Vos
Sales: Films Boutique
No rating, 87 minutes
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