An actress, actor-director and crew member go Dutch, emotionally, in Robert Jan Westdijk's light-hearted puzzle pic "In Real Life," where a love triangle being played out in a semi-improvised movie becomes affected by the thesps' real lives.

An actress, actor-director and crew member go Dutch, emotionally, in Robert Jan Westdijk’s light-hearted puzzle pic “In Real Life,” where a love triangle being played out in a semi-improvised movie becomes affected by the thesps’ real lives. Writer-director Robert Jan Westdijk’s central conceit is that he relies mainly on the film-within-the-film to tell the behind-the-scenes story. Pic will click at fests, but lacks that Charlie Kaufman-like touch that could persuade Euro distribs to sign on the dotted line.

Director Martin (Ramsey Nasr) and his actress g.f., Simone (Sallie Harmsen), are working together on a film in which he plays Milan, a guy still stuck in his student ways. In the (pretty terrible) film, Milan asks his g.f., also called Simone, to prove she loves him by falling for someone else and then choosing between the two of them.

However, the actor (Oren Schrijver) who’s meant to play the guy Simone falls for is so incompetent that he’s replaced by a grip, Dirk (Loek Peters), for whom Martin rewrites the role on the spot. Though lackluster as an actor, Dirk has undeniable charm, and Simone, like her fictional namesake, seems rather attracted to the baldy with the big heart.

Onscreen and offscreen personalities converge as the shoot continues. Finally, all three have to face the consequences in the closing scenes, which are less convincing dramatically.

Pic harks back to the edgy use of unreliable narration that made Westdijk’s 1995 debut, “Little Sister,” a hit. Here, the screenplay and editing, both by Westdijk, keep the narrative easily readable throughout. Part of the film’s success is that it trusts auds enough to let them understand what is fictional, what is real and how the two are connected.

As it gently riffs on melodrama, diva antics and the search for narrative that docu and reality TV makers face each day, the film ends up feeling lighter than others that explore the crevices between fact and fiction.

Nasr and Peters manage to negotiate the difficult task of being in character and acting in a film as their characters would do. But the real discovery is Harmsen: Whenever she’s onscreen, the film crackles with sex appeal and positive energy. In one of the best scenes, she sits in front of a mirror and gives a demonstration of the essential Jekyll/Hyde nature of her job: She is herself on set but transforms into someone else entirely between the words “action” and “cut!”

Lensing is aces. Pic’s opening credits are actually for the film-within-the-film.

In Real Life

Netherlands

Production

An A-Film release of a Motel Films, Fu Works, Robert Jan Westdijk presentation of a Motel Films, Fu Works, IDTV Film production. (International sales: IDTV, Amsterdam.) Produced by Jeroen Beker, Frans van Gestel. Executive producer, Judy Maat. Co-producer, San Fu Maltha. Directed, written, edited by Robert Jan Westdijk.

Crew

Camera (color), Menno Westendorp; production designer, Floris Vos; costume designer, Martina Fehmer; sound (Dolby Digital), Marcel de Hoogd; casting, Saida van der Reijd. Reviewed at Netherlands Film Festival (opener), Utrecht, Netherlands, Sept. 27, 2008. Running time: 87 MIN.

With

Sallie Harmsen, Loek Peters, Ramsey Nasr, Mike Libanon, Loes Haverkort, Oren Schrijver.
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