By Hemanth Kissoon
The screening was packed at the Berlinale 2012. It wasn’t even the first time HEMEL was being shown. Sex sells. Holland-set and opens with the title “Genital Phase”. There is graphic playfulness, and a cruel edge to the banter, the morning after the titular Hemel (Hannah Hoekstra) wakes up next to her latest one-night stand. The film doesn’t pull any punches with its depictions, from matter-of-fact urination to S&M, and doesn’t come across as exploitative. (Actually witnessing urination is quite prevalent at this year’s Festival – whether watching it, or water sports – ELLES and WHITE DEER PLAIN. Not sure whether you needed that aside.)
The next title refers to a guy she seduces in a club. Hemel dismisses his post-coital affection as unmanly before she kicks him out; which results in him hurling a brick through her window. Hemel’s issues surrounding sex, love and romance is complex. Even more complicated is the relationship with her father, Gijs (Hans Dagelet), a womaniser about to settle down. Hemel’s mother died when she was very young. The bond between parent and child is so intimate that it is uncomfortable without tipping into incest. There is frankness to their interactions in everything, bar reflections on love and insecurities. The performances are top-notch and charisma-fuelled. Hoekstra in particular is mesmerising. The actors are captured with assurance by feature debut director Sacha Polak, and cinematographer Daniël Bouquet. I particularly like the use of focus and close-ups. And hats off to writer Helena van der Meulen for the great dialogue.
An uneasy and intriguing watch.