Wednesday 11 October 2017

Quality Time (Daan Bakker, 2017)

While it misses more often than it hits, Daan Bakker's portmanteu film is nothing if not original, and it would have made for a far bolder choice for the Netherlands' submission to the Oscars; although shortlisted, Quality Time lost out to the rather pedestrian Layla M.  Bakker's film contains five separate stories, each of which features a different man and his own crisis, and, as is the case with many anthology films, the quality of the segments is far from consistent.

The first, and best, section features Koen, a man who is tired of the regular family gatherings where he's unfailingly called on to devour ham and guzzle milk as some sort of party piece.  Koen's "act" greatly amuses all but himself, and the section follows him from dreading the occasion to going through the motions at the event.  Koen is represented by a white dot not dissimilar to the ball in early videogame Pong, and he speaks in a robotic monotone.  As his story progresses, other, equally rudimentary dots appear on screen and interact with Koen as the party gets into full swing.  It's a clever, amusing stretch of the film, and while Koen's consumption at the party is no funnier to us than it is to him, the feat pulled off by Bakker is impressive: before the end of Koen's story, a machine-voiced spot on the screen has become a character we've bought into.

The second section is not as successful, but does intrigue as the apparently traumatised Stefaan takes a camera and tours some of his childhood haunts.  Quite what's happened to him is hard to discern, but it's a melancholy segment in which the slightly threatening Stefaan often seems close to harming those who now populate the places from his past.  We're left to piece it all together from brief glimpses of the photos he takes, but it's all just a bit too opaque to be properly satisfying.

The middle story features a time machine, as Kjell goes back to rectify the childhood trauma that he feels has affected the rest of his life.  This sounds like a relatively straightforward tale, and it is until it's hijacked by a bizarre, extended medieval interlude.  As the section plods on, it runs out of both steam and focus, and what started out as an interesting idea winds up something of a mess.

The fourth instalment is, by a country mile, the strangest of the five stories.  It's hard to know where to start with this one, but it features a man called Karel and an alien abduction.  There's definitely a Lynchian sensibility at work in this one, with imagery that could easily have come from the recent, third season of Twin Peaks, and it gets things back on track after the two rather disappointing tales that have preceded it.

The final section sees Jef trying just a bit too hard to endear himself to his girlfriend's parents.  After what's immediately preceded it, Jef's story is particularly jarring as it is the most straightforward of any of the tales.  While it's fun to squirm along with Jef as he does his best to please, it doesn't really go anywhere until a killer caption appears at the very end.

Quality Time is certainly different, partially successful, and always ambitious.  While a bit more consistency would have been welcomed, Bakker has done well to link these seemingly disparate tales to a single theme, and pathos is to be found in all of the film's sections.  Of course, with the best served up first, you could always bail after Koen's story, but, as anticlimactic as the following sections are, that really wouldn't be very fair; Bakker's film deserves to be seen to the end, and it has just enough about it to warrant your time .  It screens at the London Film Festival on the 12th and 14th of October.

Darren Arnold