The familiar quietude of vacant alleys, secret crooks, and empty restaurants; those shared moments of unspoken reminiscence and silenced discovery. With Here, Bas Devos trains his patient gaze on the ambiguity of attraction, whether for another person or for the microscopic environments flourishing under the scrutiny of moss. The knack for affect that Devos has been able to cultivate through his works is most generously arranged with this outing, though this generosity feels both familiar and telegraphed via the very aesthetic interests that are commonplace within the sphere of festival acclaim. We engage with the wandering Stefan (Stefan Gota), a Romanian construction worker in Belgium who clears out his fridge so that, as he is set to return home for vacation, a completely emptied dwelling might evoke a peace only completely tangible when he dreams: the inundating serenity in visions of rustling winds and overhanging greenery in arches that obfuscate the sky. In his promenading, he’ll meet a Chinese doctorate student, Shuxiu (Liyo Gong), with whom he’ll share a beautiful moment imbued with transience. She sits behind the counter of her aunt’s restaurant while he waits for the rain to calm. He’ll flirt with her, making cool remarks she’ll offer a sly smile to, micro-expressions that culminate in the most effective of Devos’ intonations. Gleaned from here is a desire that’s snubbed, situated as one of the many ephemeral feelings both Stefan and Shuxiu will encounter through their days. Embodied in Here is a calcifying of Devos’ most compelling sensibilities, drawing characterizations through an anti-exposition, unveiling detail through mannerism, allowing his actors to respond very slightly to their environments, and gathering these reactions into montage. These small gestures, these fleeting emotional toilings that negate themselves almost immediately, are what are most affective in Devos’ work: his capacity to make studied objects of passive yearnings. We are privy to only broad intention, but hidden away will always be a specificity, which is naturally reflected in our couple’s capacity to understand each other.
Futurity also lends itself to the work, as Devos concludes the film on a forecast, a hidden smile that suggests more to come. And this proffering of narrativity outside of the film’s temporality is exciting and seductive; it actualizes the laden potentialities of our characters — their emotionality, their insular machinations — and extracts attention from us viewers onto the distanced paradigms that they ultimately stand for. This coda enables a projection more fanciful, more romantic, then all that came prior could formulate. There’s a lot of ascetic beauty to be found throughout Here, lots of hyper-specificity within quotidian adventures and the hiatal faculties of its plot, but it reads cold for the viewer, and in many regards is derivative of the best that contemporary art-fiction has to offer. Reticent, textured, interested in the implications our characters evoke when totally suffused through their environs (the increased degree to which they are framed behind the reflections of glass, marginalized in compositions, fragmented outside of the frame — the articulation only intensifies): it’s all familiar and pleasurable, but somehow also lacking precisely because of this familiarity. It seems most unfortunate that the aesthetic realm of festival circuitry has become so insular, where our most regarded and properly attentive films feel schematic. Devos doesn’t battle against much of this complacency, and neither is it quite the job of every filmmaker to do so. But that one may politely admire Here, rather than profoundly so, is a demonstration of our collective, artisanal public sphere; one hopes only to witness the schema subverted, confronted, or playfully unwound. This film does none of that (and, once again, it under no circumstances has to), but it does provide the very temporary warmth our central couple moves in and out of with a refined ease, framed within a very engineered serendipity.
DIRECTOR: Bas Devos; CAST: Stefan Gota, Liyo Gong, Teo Corban; DISTRIBUTOR: The Cinema Guild; IN THEATERS: February 9; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 22 min.
Originally published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 8.