Sunday, March 15, 2015

After the Tone [2014]

MPAA (PG-13) (2 Stars) (2 Stars) (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing listing (K. Wolfs) review* (L. van der Meij) review*
Film Totaal (T. Verhoeven) review* (N. van den Berg) review* (D. Steneker) review*

After the Tone [2014] [IMDb] [CEu] (directed and cowritten by Digna Sinke [IMDb] [CEu] along with Henk Burger [IMDb] [CEu]) I found to be a fascinating movie from the Netherlands that played recently at the 2015 - 18th Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.

The concept was deceptively simple yet the effect, as time went on, profound: A Dutchman, known as Onno, some kind of an ad-man or graphics designer from Amsterdam presumably in his 30s maybe 40s, simply stops responding to his voice-mails.

After hearing Onno's own voice message that he gives in both Dutch and English, "You've reached the voice mail of Onno ... please leave a message after the tone," THE REST OF THE FILM IS ENTIRELY COMPOSED OF THE VOICE MESSAGES LEFT IN HIS VOICE MAILBOX -- from his quite betrayed business partner Adriaan (voiced by Dragan Bakema [IMDb] [CEu], his mother (voiced by Olga Zuiderhoek [IMDb] [CEu]), his sister (voiced by Rifka Lodeizen [IMDb] [CEu]) and his girlfriend (voiced by Josefien Hendriks [IMDb] [CEu]) -- AND THE VISUALS FOR THE FILM were composed (more or less) of what the callers would have been looking toward while leaving the messages. 

So what the heck happened to Onno?  Well that's the key question, right?  Now he didn't appear to disappear completely.   OCCASIONALLY he (or perhaps someone else) uses a credit card of his -- in far off locations somewhere in the South Pacific.  So presumably he was alive.   But he CHOSE for some reason to disappear.  Why?  Again, a fascinating question.  What was clear though was simply that ONE DAY he simply disappeared from the regular circles of those friends/family/business associates who knew him:

He didn't show up at work.  About half of the messages on that first day were from his increasingly shocked/angry business partner who was left stood-up at a meeting with an important overseas client: "I know that you've always been a perfectionist / primadonna but WHERE ARE YOU?  THE JAPANESE ARE SITTING HERE WAITING..."   (Needless to say, THAT MEETING didn't go well ...)

As that first day proceeds there are also casual calls from from friends / relatives.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  BUT as the days of strange silence proceed, it's the family that becomes more and more concerned.  It becomes clear that Onno hasn't necessarily had the best relationship with his parents, BUT they were old and it becomes clear that his Father was ill.  "WHERE ARE YOU?  Why don't you return my calls?" his mother asks with an increasingly desperate tone as she comes to realize as the days, then WEEKS go by that he's really not calling them (or anybody). 

His girlfriend / sister have more practical concerns.  Both report to Nano that (after about a week) the police came by his apartment and a couple of weeks later the police come back at the behest of various financial concerns (after all, he wasn't paying his bills) to confiscate whatever financial records he may have left behind.

The burning questions quickly become and remain WHERE was Onno and WHY did he (presumably) do this?  In any case, the film becomes a very touching exposition of what it would be like for the loved ones / acquaintances of someone who simply disappeared.  Even his business partner, whose business was crushed as a result of Onno's disappearance leaves a message along the lines of: "Look, all kidding aside, YOU WERE A FRIEND AND DESPITE ALL THIS (all that you've done to me) I WILL NEVER FORGET YOU."

It is a remarkable story.

Now THERE ARE (more or less) OBVIOUS FLAWS.  First, most phone services allow only a limited number of voicemails before the box becomes "full."  Second along similar lines, after a few months if no one was paying for that phone, it would become disconnected (the story here goes on for a full year).  Third, friends and family TODAY would NOT only communicate with Nano by phone but also by text, e-mail, Facebook, etc.  The film focused ONLY on voice messages.

Finally, with a larger budget, the visuals could have been better.  Almost all were "outdoor vistas," that is, what the callers leaving messages on Onno's voice-mail would have been looking at if they were looking out the window.  More compelling visuals would have included Nano's business partner Adriaan making a desperate phone call to him from a busy office hallway / corridor, or Nano's sister or girlfriend calling from Nano's clearly ransacked (by bank officials / police inspectors) apartment, and/or Nano's mother calling him from the bedside of clearly a hospital room (when his father was ill) etc.

Still what a story!   And one that certainly makes one think.  Not only is silence inherently "polyvalent" (open to all kinds of interpretations by the receiver(s) of such silence), it is also quite cruel.  Nobody deserved what Onno did to them.

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser.

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