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Review: All You See


- Iranian-Dutch director Niki Padidar offers up an emotional and visually elegant documentary essay on exile and othering from the viewpoint of the othered

Review: All You See

An online search about what it feels like to be an immigrant in the Netherlands gives you a long list of personal testimonies on how difficult it is for foreigners in a country that otherwise tops the tolerance charts. Iranian-Dutch filmmaker Niki Padidar does not spare us her gloomy sentiments about her second home either in her painfully personal documentary All You See, which opened the most recent IDFA and is showing at Hot Docs as part of European Film Promotion's The Changing Face of Europe programme.

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Padidar has lived in the Netherlands since her parents took her from Iran to Amsterdam at the age of seven to flee the war back home. She also touched upon the subject of othering with her more innocent previous short Ninnoc (2015), by featuring an 11-year-old girl who thinks her classmates see her as different. In All You See, Padidar gathers true stories that add to her own experience, and she thus outlines behavioural and thought patterns that are deeply ingrained in the white, colonial mentality.

Four female characters of different ages and from various foreign backgrounds share their solitary experiences of being othered. Little Sophia really misses her friends back home, as she has just arrived with her mum from the UK, remaining the newcomer, at least until she learns Dutch. Young Hanna from Ukraine speaks Dutch with an accent, so she tries to learn from films how to mingle with the locals and get rid of her tourist-like appearance. Mature Khadija from Somalia has been living in the Netherlands for 27 years and speaks Dutch like a native, but her black skin prompts inappropriate comments on a daily basis – at the hospital where she works as a nurse, people mistake her for a cleaner. She realises that in a society where people take six months’ leave after a breakup or the death of a pet, talking about how half of your family were beheaded before your very eyes is too shocking and simply out of place. It’s not only her skin colour, but also her capability to endure that place her a world apart from the people around her. The fourth individual in the group is Niki Padidar herself, always hiding behind the camera, but present in a voice-over and brought to life visually by a silent girl. In a way, they each represent the various stages of her exile.

Interviews alternate with performance-like episodes in a theatrical mise-en-scène – contemplative moments in which the heroines are alone in their secluded, intimate spaces. These are environments protected from the hostile world out there, but they also resemble prison cells, empty and silent, so that the crucial questions can clearly echo in their heads. What does it feel like to belong to a place without connecting to its culture? Or to be stared at without being seen? Padidar identifies herself as an Amsterdammer; however, the environment does not permit her to feel truly Dutch. Nevertheless, her movie is officially Dutch, and ironically, it was in the running for Best Dutch Film at IDFA. As mentioned above, Hot Docs has made a nod to its complex theme by programming it within The Changing Face of Europe section.

For the Dutch film industry and its financing prospects, a film that points out the local disadvantages is probably justified as an invitation to talk, analyse and instigate some changes. But to support the open discussion of issues in the post-colonial era in order to release psychological tension while pressing on with the old, patronising ways is also an archetypal colonial attitude. At least the gauntlet has been thrown down.

All You See was produced by mint film office (Netherlands). Filmotor handles its international sales.

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