Degree 2.0 of presence
by Bénédicte Prot
- Dutch director David Verbeek’s surprising film, unveiled at Cannes 2010, about the virtual and real experiences of a European gaming champion on a trip to Taiwan
At a time when the virtual is occupying an increasingly real place in cinema, with computer-generated images attracting viewers en masse and social network sites used to lure them, it was obvious that cinema would sooner or later explore this dimension, and through it a computer-friendly and cosmopolitan generation that is establishing a new type of contact with the world. The 63rd Cannes Film Festival offered examples in its Official Selection, with Chatroom [+see also:
film profile] (Competition), Gilles Marchand’s Black Heaven [+see also:
interview: Gilles Marchand, director o…
film profile] (out of competition) and, in the Un Certain Regard section, the Dutch film R U There [+see also:
interview: David Verbeek, director of …
film profile], whose title evokes the new means of instant communication. This is David Verbeek’s third feature, written by his loyal collaborator Rogier de Blok.
Using many close-ups (in particular his fixed expression, as if under hypnosis), the film centres closely on a professional video game champion, Jitze (Stijn Koomen), who has come to Taipei to compete. Through his clicking action, he activates the murderous career of an unassailable soldier with whom he identifies in real life – from the opening scene, while he waits at the airport, we see him doing press-ups and practising aiming at targets.
He also watches what he eats (you have to be careful with your "system", he says) and lives a life that is parallel to everyone else’s, wearing his own earphones even in places where the music is already deafening. Jitze is the master of a private world that is unconnected (ironically) with the one around him. Thus, when he witnesses an accident, he watches without reacting, absent, as the film’s title suggests.
Then something indescribable happens: Jitze gets hurt, he gets the wrong "focus" (pseudo of a co-competitor), loses his concentration in a sense, and notices that "something has changed" in his normally perfectly controlled sphere. This pushes him to make contact with the world and find some peace and quiet, first of all virtually as part of the game Second Life, then in Taiwan, where beyond the chaotic cities, there are natural surroundings as lush and magic as those of his electronic avatar.
Throughout the film, Verbeek has fun contrasting and superposing opposites, in a culture where contradiction doesn’t have the meaning attributed to it by western philosophy. In the same way that virtual and real merge in Jitze’s mind, binary divisions (body and soul, urban cacophony that almost physically assails viewers and bucolic silence...) are always reconcilable for the locals with whom he tries to establish contact through his "guide" Min Min (whom he can’t buy even if he pays her). It’s as if what at first looks like confusion is gradually transformed into serene fusion.
Verbeek’s treatment of his chosen ultra-contemporary theme is exhaustive, thanks to the Asian context and the dialogue between the live-action images and animated scenes through which he reveals his character’s mental landscape (an idea cleverly backed up by a focus on his corporeality), from the palm-tree tops against the white background of the airport at the start to those under which he lies down at the end, feeling serene, as though, letting go of his joystick, he is at last calmly giving himself up to the harmony of modern times.
(Translated from French)