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Review: Carrousel


- By way of several sensitive, impressionistic portraits, Marina Meijer immerses herself in the microcosm of a young offenders’ rehabilitation centre in Rotterdam

Review: Carrousel

"I believe that every factor which has led you down the wrong path also has the power to help you find the right path. If I see a dealer who’s doing well, I see a good businessman - it’s just he’s using his talent badly. That’s why I want to work out which qualities you’ve put to bad use." It’s within the walls of the New Chance centre in Rotterdam that the Netherlands’ Marina Meijer slips her camera (the director herself helmed filming and sound for this picture), using her excellent sense of intimacy and her talent for capturing nuance to craft her new documentary Carrousel [+see also:
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, screened in the international competition of the 42nd Cinéma du réel Festival (which unspooled online until 22 March and whose winners will be unveiled on 26 March) following on from its world premiere at last November’s IDFA.

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Delgado, Tayfun and Nabil are barely 18 years old, but they already have a past packed full of delinquency yet desperately short on schooling. Delivering lessons and workshops (from simulated phone calls to arrange meetings in the context of a job hunt to the assimilation of basic Dutch culture, all by way of manual labour and visual arts), but, above all, discussions with youth workers-teachers Toine, Roy and René, the New Chance programme attempts to lend structure to the lives of these somewhat wild youngsters, to build bridges in terms of mutual respect (a far from easy task) and to open the door towards a regenerative form of introspection for these characters who are often tormented souls harbouring heavy secrets.

As the film progresses, the characters’ psychological contours slowly come into focus. The director chooses to leave the details of these youngsters’ criminal activities off camera, honing in instead on their temperaments and the way in which their youth workers break through the hard shells of these young people tirelessly, methodically (exchanges based on role reversal being the best example of this) and, for the most part, calmly (which doesn’t preclude a few exasperated moments and behavioural boundaries having to be redrawn). Daily efforts worthy of Sisyphus (because some of them, such as Nabil, are particularly closed-off, hostile to any kind of authority and likely to erupt at the drop of a hat) are required in order to transmit positive energy to these “kids” who otherwise live and breathe negative wavelengths. But these youth workers have some solid life experience under their belts; Toine, for example, spent 21 years of his life in prison before turning the page and becoming a visual arts teacher.

Malaise, stress, a growing awareness of personal failings which cause chaotic paths, learning over time to be honest with ourselves, to accept the past ("holding on to your secrets doesn’t help make you strong or help you re-enter the world") understanding others’ judgements, taking stock of the consequences of our acts, redefining trust, enlisting the help of others, managing emotions… Little by little, and by way of its highly endearing characters, Carrousel paints the portrait of a microsociety (always shot indoors) which is both impressionistic and objective, but is neither angelic nor ideological. It’s a simple and sensitive human report on the difficulties involved in finding the right path, starting afresh and building a future while anchoring oneself to two basic ideas: "you’re not stupid, you just do stupid things" and "life is hard, guys. It’s up to you to make the best of it".

Produced by Simone van den Broek for Basalt Film, Carrousel is co-produced by VPRO and enjoys the support of the NPO Fund and the Netherlands Film Fund.

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(Translated from French)

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