IDFA 2019: Carrousel
In Carrousel , Marina Meijer chronicles the lives of several vulnerable young men in a transformation centre in Rotterdam, writes Geoffrey Macnab.
"They are often seen as the bad boys, the problematic youth, with the ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) label," the director notes of her troubled subjects who are very conscious of the way the outside world regards them. As filmmaker Marina Meijer spent more time with them, she realised these young men were not only "trapped" in a society which marginalises them but that they were also "locked down in their own feelings and thoughts and patterns. I felt they really wanted to break out."
The director noticed the painstaking way in which the teachers in the centre tried to engage with the boys. "A lot of them, for the first time in their lives, had the feeling they were being looked at by the teachers for who they are." For once, she points out, the boys weren't being instantly judged because of where they came from or what they had done in the past.
The film was originally called C'est les autres, a title drawing on Sartre and suggesting "hell is other people." Carrousel has a different but equally bleak connotation. This, the director explains, is a film "without beginning or end." There is no resolution for the youngsters as they try to adapt so that they can return to outside society.
"The boys are already so defined by their past and present that the chance of change and adaptation might be quite small," Meijer explains. "We expect the boys to change, but if structural problems like social inequality, poverty and prejudices don't change in our society, this carrousel (sic) will always continue." She didn't want to make a film which would reassure audiences everything was going to be fine when she knew that her subjects' circumstances were grim.
It has taken the director three years to complete the film. First, she had to persuade the authorities to allow her to shoot in the centre. The supervisors were very protective of the boys (most of them aged around 18 and on the cusp between youth and adulthood) but eventually allowed her to do research and then to film. In 2017, she won the Karen de Bok Talent Award, worth €25,000, to develop the project.
Meijer also had to win the trust of the boys in the centre. One told her that he felt "calm" in her presence. They could tell that, unlike so many other adults and authority figures they had encountered during their troubled young lives, she wasn't judging them.
This may be a story set in a very confined space but the faces of the boys and the teachers, often shown in confrontational close up, are "the emotional landscape" of the film. "As a viewer, you can't look away. You have to look at the boys. That is exactly what I want," Meijer says of her in your face shooting style.
Meijer's hope is that as many of the boys as possible will be able to attend the IDFA premiere. She has already shown the film to all of them individually. "It was a long process. I think for three months, I have been calling them and going to their mothers' houses...they're boys with a lot on their mind. It is not easy to make an appointment with them." When she did track them down, they were proud that someone had chronicled their lives in such an honest and unflinching way.
"I want to create a mirror for society," Meijer declares of her intentions. "I want the viewer to feel unable to look away...the question should not only be what the boys are doing now, but what we ourselves are going to do."
SEE NL Magazine #37 November 2019 / IDFA Issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by EYE International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.