composer for film, theater, and TV

The New World: orchestrating subtlety

Dutch films have a bad reputation. Even the Dutch themselves are quite skeptic about their own cinematographic output. Which, I guess is understandable: the Netherlands doesn’t have a huge film output and the ones that get the most visibility are, of course, the ones that get the most budget, which are mostly romantic comedies that can be even worse than American ones. But if you dig deep, and are ready to dive into Dutch-only websites, you’ll find some true gems. Here I have to make a pause and thank my dear boyfriend (today we are one year together), who has taken the time to show me some really great Dutch films, I’ll be writing reviews of them every once in a while.

One of them is Jaap van Heusden’s 2013 film De nieuwe wereld (The New World), starring Bianca Krijgsman and Issaka Sawadogo in the main roles, and with music by Minco Eggersman. It tells the story Mirte (Krijgsman) of a woman who works cleaning an asylum seekers’ center. She comes across as quite a despicable character, mocking the people who spend long hours and days waiting for the results of their asylum requests, being nasty to a child who stuck a chewing gum on a bed post (“do you want to be sent back to your country?”). Gradually we discover certain things about her: her husband is dead, her son is being taken care of by a friend of her, and her balcony door is closed with wire. During the film, she also starts to get attracted to Luc (Sawadogo), a man from a West African country who is seeking asylum in the Netherlands. Their relationship will change both of them in a positive way, even though he will ultimately be returned to his country.

The music in the film is quite unobtrusive, and mostly consists of different drones and simple guitar melodies that just underline key moments. I find this kind of understated nature in both narrative and music very fitting as well to Mirte’s world. She seems to have stuffed all her emotions deep inside her, just leaving the façade of an inexpressive, bad-tempered, quiet woman. The music, with its sometimes foreboding drones, becomes the voice of her buried emotions, a quality which is further emphasized by all the constant sounds that surround her, especially the sharp noises in the asylum seekers’ centrum (the pressurized doors, the beeps when a guard swipes his card to enter a room, the footsteps, the computer keyboards ticking), and her own noisy motorcycle.

The only moments when we have some sort of emotional element is when we hear the lonely guitar melody, but even this seems half-spoken, as if struggling or doubting to find the right notes, or maybe frightened of showing these emotions. Just like Mirte, who prefers to lock herself in the toilet rather than cry in front of her own son after she catches him watching a video of his late father. She hides her emotions, and the movie, bot through sounds and music, shows us her struggle. Just at the end, when she smuggles Luc outside of the center so he can have a last look at the Dutch countryside before he is deported, we feel that the music opens up, if only just a little bit, showing us how these two characters have developed a sort of connection, even though their lives are about to be separated most likely for ever. There is no big moment of tears and massive swelling strings with a piano. No, Mirte just says “I’ll go this way” and turns around, while Luc is escorted by a guard back to his room. I found this so elegant, so subtle and yet it tears you apart. The film ends with Mirte driving her motorcycle back home, her face not saying anything and yet we know what she has ben through.

Bianca Krijgsman won a well-deserved International Emmy Award for best actress for her role as Mirte.

image source here