Berlinale Review: Here (2023)

The melting pot that is present day Europe should be an inspiration for more uplifting stories about the things that bind us as people. I would be hard pressed to find examples for this, the focus, both in the news and in cinema, being foremost on tension and conflict. It makes sense, conflict drives storytelling and keeps us engaged. Yet, here we are, in the world of Bas Devos, where human connection springs eternal from the most unexpected of sources.

This is a conflict-less story. Or, rather, a story that’s not really about the conflict. My namesake Ștefan, a Romanian construction worker living in Belgium, is about to travel back home, but needs to get his car fixed before leaving. He also needs to clear his fridge, so makes a big pot of soup out of whatever he finds inside it.

The haphazardly concocted soup then proves a wonderous lubricant of the human spirit, it opens doors in a Balkanic tradition, but also forges moments of connection and intimacy, the way sharing food so often does. Per chance, in pre-departure to and fros, Ștefan meets Shuxiu, a Belgian-Chinese woman who works on her doctorate about mosses, while also helping out one of her relatives who runs a small restaurant. It’s the unlikeliest of connections, but perfectly in the spirit that Here inhabits.

At just 82 minutes, the movie is strikingly short. Especially if you get into its mood, it will lull you before you even realize it’s ending. We are so used to our urban jungles, that nature takes on ever more mystical qualities. In the world of Here, nature provides, in all its delicate simplicity. Ștefan Goța and Liyo Gong play their understated parts in this symphony and we feel immediately drawn to them, to join them. We are traveling back to the roots of our quintessential sense of connection, in an almost idealistic form of said conflict-less world. But it’s not really a world without conflict, rather one where it has temporarily ceased and made room for tenderness.

The movie was well received at the Berlinale, where it picked up the Encounters Award and the FIPRESCI Prize. It’s unsurprising, really. If I was insistently pressed to commit to a favourite of the movies I saw in Berlin this year, I would pick this one, even if the whole batch was a rewarding one.

Here is a moment in time, the proverbial here and now, which is the most blissful place to exist in. It’s mischievously elusive, of course, but Bas Devos somehow manages to capture its essence in this movie, that has all the chances of growing on you and showing you true North. 8

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