Monday 15 August 2022

Mondig Zuid (René van Zundert, 2022)

The most recent edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam saw its RTM strand showcase a dozen works from local filmmakers, and word has it that the 2023 festival will place an even greater emphasis on films made in the city on the Maas.  What is interesting about the RTM strand is that it almost acts as a festival inside a festival: there are a mix of shorts, features, series and documentaries, and the makers of the selections range from those just starting out to those who have long since been established in the world of cinema.  Highlights of the 2022 RTM selection included Christiaan van Scheermbeek's Altijd alles anders, which detailed Paul Röttger's work with the Rotterdams Centrum voor Theater, and So Loud the Sky Can Hear Us, a raucous and ridiculously entertaining short focusing on some particularly fanatical Feyenoord supporters.

Also among the offerings in this year's RTM was René van Zundert's hour-long documentary Mondig Zuid which, as its name suggests, fixes its gaze on the south side of the city.  Within this geographical area, van Zundert's focus is on three young people—Tamia, Selena and Darlin—all of whom are dealing with that well-known issue of growing up; as most adults will confirm, this experience can bring more than its fair share of complications.  The bright, articulate Tamia finds herself well and truly up against it as she strives to become a spoken word artist; Selena is from Bloemhof—which in 2009 was placed fourth in then-Dutch Minister of Housing Eberhard van der Laan's list of "40 problem neighbourhoods"—and writes daily letters to her sister, who has been been placed in a youth institution on account of her behaviour; and Darlin, who is originally from Curaçao, aims to finish school, find a job, and stay out of trouble.

While all three of the film's subjects face various challenges, there's a lot of hope on offer in Mondig Zuid—which carries the alternative title Talk is Cheap—as we watch these children attempt to figure out solutions to their problems.  The film is an unsentimental, pragmatic affair, one from which we get a fine sense of how daily life is for Darlin, Selena and Tamia, and while its fly-on-the-wall format may be very familiar, it's the most effective way to capture the moments of isolation and confusion that are common to, well, virtually everyone who's ever gone through the ritual of growing up.  Which is not to say that Mondig Zuid is all about the solipsistic mindset: Darlin, mindful of his own experiences when he first arrived in the Netherlands, happily helps out at Dutch language classes aimed at those who have immigrated to the country; similarly, Selena seems keenly aware of the situation in which her sister finds herself, and her long-distance efforts to support her absent sibling come across as heartfelt and genuine.  

While it's inherently televisual, Mondig Zuid's true achievement lies in its editing; presumably, countless hours of footage had to be distilled down into the crisp, easily digestible finished product, which feels just about right in terms of duration.  To present normal people carrying out everyday tasks isn't difficult, but making such a spectacle engaging requires considerable skill, and van Zundert has crafted a film that is always compelling.  Of course, it helps that the trio of Selena, Darlin and Tamia are likeable and relatable, and most viewers will be willing them to overcome the various obstacles that are placed in their paths.  While it may be the case that Mondig Zuid will hold most appeal for those familiar with Rotterdam, there's a universality to the film: the world is full of similar young people, all employing various strategies as they attempt to navigate the many forks in the road. 

Darren Arnold

Images: IFFR