A professional gamer is so fanatical about his job he’s forgotten how to live in the real world in “R U There?” from young Dutch helmer David Verbeek. The Dutch protag’s forced readjustment to human rather than keyboard-induced forms of interaction occurs in Taiwan, where he’s sidelined during a gaming tournament, and is somewhat paradoxically aided by his visits to the virtual world of Second Life. Small and delicately handled feature should find an extended life on the fest circuit, though the target demo might discover it on other, less legal platforms. Pic goes out locally June 17.
The film continues the helmer’s obsession with Asia-set stories after his derivative “Shanghai Trance,” which Verbeek wrote solo. “R U There?” marks a happy return to his ongoing collaboration with screenwriter Rogier de Blok, who’s written much of Verbeek’s previous work. His latest screenplay has a delicate touch appropriate for a story that’s set in the country of Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang but clearly has its own identity.
Young and fiercely competitive Jitske (Stijn Koomen) is in Taipei for a gaming tournament. When he wakes up with an aching shoulder, he’s forced by his Belgian coach (Tom de Hoog) to take a rest. Despite shooting people for a living in a virtual environment, it’s a bloody traffic accident that jolts him out of his tunnel-vision worldview. Jitske decides he wants to keep in touch with a mysterious local lady (Ke Huan-Ru) who gave him a massage, but he’s unsure how to translate this desire into anything concrete without using money.
Pic beautifully suggests Jitske’s commitment to the virtual world and social awkwardness in the real one, and though he keeps fit and pays attention to what he eats, it’s clear this kid has only a vague idea of how to function like a healthy human being. Pic’s calm and measured pace chart the gamer’s hesitant attempts to keep close to his object of desire, and not until she mentions she’s into Second Life and they meet there do things start to progress, albeit at a different speeds in the two parallel worlds.
De Blok and Verbeek stay near to Jitske’s perspective, and the older woman from the hotel remains something of an enigma (is she a prostitute or just a kind soul?).
Huan-Ru’s dignified yet opaque perf is key in making auds understand the protag’s attraction while also maintaining an air of mystery, and Koomen plays off of her with typical restraint. The film’s subdued tone is maintained through to the end, privileging Jitske’s quiet transformation over a more facile boy-meets-foreign girl love story.
Ace d.p. Lennert Hillege lays on the shallow focus, reducing many things onscreen to somewhat blurred 2D entities and thus visually approaching the look of Second Life. Playing with mirrors and reflective surfaces, lensing also visually toys with the idea of avatars in the real world. Other tech credits are fine.
Pic is one of several on the Croisette (including “Chatroom” and “Black Heaven”) dealing with the online world but is surely the most quietly poetic, with the online scenes repping only a small part of the running time.