Nude Area (Strefa nagości)

A visual thesis on elemental, youthful, all-female seduction.

This short film’s emphasis on pictorial communication (no dialogue included) was cool and intriguing. It immediately spikes your interest (that’s what all cinema should be about, primarily). For such a safely brief running time (73 minutes) — a sustainable concept to direct and execute (by Urszula Antoniak), too, without having to rely on text-based fillers. Even if cinematography wasn’t always as lavish as you’d like — for a work where image does really take the center stage. Some shots were great, some not — which pertains to any motion-picture work. The loosely associative, reality and dream-weaving plot was divided into one-word chapters (every one of them starting with l — as in labor or lovers; delivered in a stately-looking serif font), whose scene selections felt arbitrary. The editing seemed that way, too.

As may be expected, the pic leaned on facial expressions and body language of its performers. Without them being overly excessive; the acting was self-controlled. A nice bet that made this movie a piece of alienating near-abstraction, attractively removing it from day-to-day human exchanges (still, it was reality-based, firmly so). Its themes and interests could be summarized as: violence of seduction, non-full-blown sensuality, immediacy of juvenile feelings/fascinations — the ability to be disproportionately overwhelmed; also melancholic longing and loneliness. But contrarily to this synopsis, and to reinstate, the performances were restrained, not wallowing in superfluous emotions. The subject matter sounds ridiculous and incredibly effete in text, but proves fine as a purely visual experience — of a non-categorizing, cinematic variety. Which is crafted as coldly distant rather than welcoming one’s immediate participation — a formal approach that makes the theme non-dismissable as a mere trifle.

The story involves two teenage girls in Amsterdam, engaged in a seductive game of sorts. The pairing was based on contrasts (visual, behavioral, socio-economical). The posh one (Sammy Boonstra) was wearing a consistently alluring dark wardrobe and styling (black nails; leather jacket; some sculpturally cut clothes; short bob hair; alternately toned-down or ostentatious jewelry), but above all, she carried a way more expressive face than the object of her fascination, and had an interesting — even if sometimes insulting — way of being (cultivated, studied, heightened, still; qualities which transfer into the movie’s style). She was the aggressive and villainous of the two, single-handedly charging the relationship, actively directing her predatory female gaze upon the meek (for sport, fun or thrill). Her sense of entitlement and social standing were in-your-face, often crass, and marked with casual cruelty. The girl, whose conduct read as methodological and sinister in its seductive intentions, clearly didn’t set out to win anyone’s sympathy. The Muslim girl (Imaan Hammam — a professional fashion model) served as a naïve prey, and was mostly blank and passive, modest and shy — qualities most certainly attributable to her humble background. Neither the actress nor the director had the resources to make her a fascinating character. Other than the obligations of a screenplay, you didn’t think much of her guilelessness and confusion (a source of fundamental contrast between the girls). Her bushy hair, often forming an optical triangle (or an A-line) — when uncovered, was a major attraction for the classy one, and played a big part in the anticlimatic ‘break-up’ scene.

As the title alludes to, the girls were acquainted by repeated visits to a public bath. Where they enjoyed themselves naked (in a non-sexualized manner, as the place is clinical). The film often stopped short to luxuriate in the attractiveness of the wet-body look, advertising its merits in long slow-motion shots. The pic’s most decided behavior included the Dutch girl provocatively splaying her legs for the Arabic girl sitting on the opposite side of the sauna, discreetly revealing all her anatomic glory; graced with that presentation, the girl left the bath, tamely deciding not to play along. Other provocations are even milder by comparison — touching a clothed breast, hair-streaking, hair-sniffing. All very innocent stuff. Most of the film was based on looking and posing, not acting upon.

/Here an unnecessary paragraph commenting on the obvious — this part is skippable. Of course, for such a story concept, a choice of protagonists is easily digestible, even logical (young girls, lesbians or just curiously exploring, are easy on the eyes). Were it about women in their 30s, for example, it would be risible — immature, swooning self-absorption doesn’t come lightly for people of certain age. Were it about men, it would be less visually palatable, marketable or believable (also, men tend to have poorer facial repertoire — the story would be just inconceivable). So the character choice was a no-brainer, for purposes of making a seductive movie with no dialogue./

As duly noted, no spoken word was uttered (apart from one interjection Yo!), even if at times you saw written words (on paper and in electronic form). The music was sparse (piano, mostly), and —curiously — sometimes spoiled, deflected the scene’s mood, rather than augmenting it. For a no-dialogue-driven movie, a risky and disappointing choice to include such passages. Leaving some scenes without music, the film would gain more of that arthouse austerity (a proudly trademarked quality of experimental films), which it has some of (allowing the hardly unpleasant circumstances of the plot), but could build more upon.

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