'Among Us'

Dutch suburbia reps a hostile environment for a timid Polish au pair in the tripartite drama "Among Us," the intriguing but not fully realized directorial debut of screenwriter Marco van Geffen ("Schnitzel Paradise," "The President").

Dutch suburbia reps a hostile environment for a timid Polish au pair in the tripartite drama “Among Us,” the intriguing but not fully realized directorial debut of screenwriter Marco van Geffen (“Schnitzel Paradise,” “The President”). Almost the polar opposite of the broad-as-a-barndoor comedies he’s written in the past, pic’s arty attention to quotidian detail, clammy claustrophobia and a marginalized femme protag clearly betray the influence of co-scribe Jolein Laarman (“Joy,” “Katia’s Sister”). Nov. 10 release won’t break the bank locally, but “Us” should continue to be among fest programmers’ choices after premieres at Locarno and Toronto.

Shy and nondescript Ewa (Dagmara Bak) has come to the Netherlands to work for Ilse (Rifka Lodeizen) and Peter (Guy Clemens), an average middle-class couple who have a second child on the way. There’s talk of a rapist on the loose, which seems to scare Ewa, who finds only a little solace in a mutually beneficial friendship with the bubbly and sexy Aga (Natalia Rybicka), another lonely Polish au pair in the same neighborhood.

Not much of a communicator and severely homesick, Ewa quickly gets on the nerves of the pregnant Ilse, while Peter tries to calm things down by focusing on the quality of her work and the good rapport she has with their toddler son.

Setup is simple enough, though from the title and the worrying opening shot, which pans down from the sky to the pitch-black water of a Dutch stream, it’s clear that something ominous will happen sooner or later in this perfectly laid out — if eternally overcast — suburban paradise.

To ramp up the tension and keep some important plot points initially under wraps, pic is divided into three overlapping parts that show the events first from the p.o.v. of Ilse and Peter, then of Aga and, finally, of Ewa. But instead of creating suspense or offering insight into the reasons for each character’s behavior, the narrative gimmick cuts up not only the story’s natural flow but also the aud’s ability to sympathize with Ewa; when, some 45 minutes in, she gets to have her say, her borderline incomprehensible actions have already been seen twice. And the final third of the pic, though it builds to a greater understanding of what has come before, doesn’t offer the kind of resolution that justifies a story auds have essentially been told three times. That said, van Geffen does ensure that a troubling undercurrent keeps bubbling just beneath the surface throughout, and the final image is quietly chilling.

Acting is down-to-earth and naturalistic, while Ton Peters’ sleek lensing, in cool colors, highlights the disturbingly perfect side of suburban living. Minimalist score is sparingly used and in keeping with the pic’s general no-frills approach.

Per press notes, “Among Us” is intended to be van Geffen’s first film in a trilogy called “The Drama of the Happy Family.”

Among Us

Netherlands

Production

A Cineart release of a Lemming Film presentation and production, in association with Bos. (International sales: Elle Driver, Paris.) Produced by Leontine Petit, Joost de Vries. Executive producers, Derk-Jan Warrink, Marleen Slot. Directed by Marco van Geffen. Screenplay, Jolein Laarman, van Geffen.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Ton Peters; editor, Peter Alderliesten; music, Chrisnanne Wiegel, Melcher Meirmans, Merlijn Snitker; production designer, Elsje de Bruijn, Jorien Sont; costume designer, Monica Petit; sound (Dolby Digital), Pepijn Aben. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (competing), Aug. 9, 2011. (In Toronto Film Festival -- Discovery; Netherlands Film Festival.) Running time: 84 MIN.

With

Dagmara Bak, Natalia Rybicka, Rifka Lodeizen, Guy Clemens, Reinout Bussemaker. (Polish, English, Dutch dialogue)
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