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BLACK NIGHTS 2023 Competition

Review: Natasha’s Dance


- The latest feature by veteran filmmaker Jos Stelling is an uneven movie that tells the tragicomic love story of two outcasts – a Dutch man and a Russian woman

Review: Natasha’s Dance
Bram Reurink in Natasha's Dance

The struggle to express emotions and the fear of loneliness are the core themes of veteran filmmaker Jos Stelling’s latest feature, Natasha’s Dance, which had its world premiere in the official selection of this year’s Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. Entirely shot in black and white by cinematographer Goert Gilday, the picture begins on a withdrawn child, Daantje (the young Bram Reurink), who is the son of a weird and dysfunctional couple played by Hadewych Minis and Gene Bervoets.

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The first few scenes, during which we realise that Daantje is somehow special, set up a quite clear tragicomic tone. The boy doesn’t like to speak, and feels detached from reality. Meanwhile, his moody parents seem more preoccupied with cultivating their love affairs (and repeatedly being caught by the young boy while having sexual intercourse) than taking care of him.

One day, Daantje’s mother tells him there will be a girl waiting for him, someone who dances beautifully. After being abandoned by both parents, Daantje grows up (Willem Voogd) in an orphanage run by the Church, an experience which leaves him even more distraught and alienated. The turning point occurs when he meets Natasha (Anastasia Weinmar), an older Russian ballerina, and in an attempt to protect her from one of her previous partners, accidentally kills him. The two go on the run together, and up until this point Jos Stelling’s bold aesthetic and narrative approach works, at least to some extent. This first part is gripping enough and while deeply tragic, the events unfolding on screen are also ‘softened’ by some pleasant light-hearted touches.

Within the narrative, space and time coordinates are not clear, which is probably a deliberate choice. In the first part of the film — Daantje’s childhood — some costumes and elements of the film’s production design appear to belong to the 1960s or the 1970s, whilst the look of the second part — when the protagonist shouldn’t be older than 30-35 — is more contemporary albeit undefined.

When their escape begins, however, the picture becomes a sort of melancholic road movie where action unfolds chaotically and characters seem simply carried away from event to event. While mysterious and fascinating, the mostly silent, quiet presence of Daantje also limits his character’s development. His role is ultimately reduced to that of someone who blindly follows Natasha in her run from the Netherlands back to her home country. The last third takes a more surreal turn, with some metaphors about death, love and life, though they do not come out as organically as they should.

On the whole, Stelling’s film is based on an interesting premise and on a captivating stylistic approach that needed some refinement. Nonetheless, the final result is rather uneven, and ultimately limits the potential of this fairytale-like love story.

Natasha’s Dance was produced by Fatt Productions (Netherlands) in collaboration with Fixy (Netherlands), and in co-production with (Germany) and AVROTROS (Netherlands).

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