Vlissingen 2023 Review: UNDER THE NAKED SKY Is Very Impressive
Lilian Sijbesma has made a great debut film about a difficult subject, with a starring role for newcomer Ylse Ringeling.
In Under the Naked Sky we follow ten-year-old Elvie, who lives with her mother on a camping site run by her grandfather. Elvie's mother is mentally impaired, having the mind and manners of a four-year-old. When Elvie's grandfather has an accident and needs to be in hospital for a few days, it hammers home to Elvie just how much of the actual responsibilities in the household fall on her. It leads to a skewed relationship with her mother, who loves her and is supposed to be in charge, but who is unable to meaningfully understand anything. This means that Elvie needs to take some very adult decisions, some of which she's definitely not yet old enough for.
Writer/director Lilian Sijbesma worked for a while with people who have mental disabilities, and came upon several cases of these people having had children. Children who, when growing up, had to come to terms with the fact that even at a young age, they already had a better understanding of what was going on in the world than their parent did. The idea stuck in Sijbesma's mind and it led her to writing the script for Under the Naked Sky. It promptly won her the Visser-Neerlandia award, the highest Dutch-language award for still-to-be-produced scripts. And now, five years later, she has directed that script into a damn impressive film.
Like in Emmanuelle Nicot's Dalva (which kicked my ass hard at the Rotterdam festival this year), Lilian Sijbesma follows her protagonist with integrity, letting the character show who she is without making her a caricatural victim or some stereotypical genius. Elvie is smart, but as a child there are things she does not know and we, as the audience, can only cheer her on and hope for the best while she tries to navigate her way through a particularly eventful Summer holiday. Having guests at the camping means there is lots of work to do, and school isn't a daily thing of stability which normally would keep Elvie away from her mother for a few hours. This means that even while she is often surrounded by people, Elvie is quite alone in solving any problems which pop up, a harrowing situation as her mother often inadvertently sabotages anything Elvie tries to do.
A good script and good direction would go nowhere if the central roles would be acted imperfectly, and this is where Under the Naked Sky shines. Newcomer Ylse Ringeling is simply fantastic as Elvie, easily carrying the film, and the immensely difficult role of her mother went to Rifka Lodeizen. Either role could so easily have turned the drama into false melodrama, but both actresses maintain full believability throughout. Veteran actor Johan Leysen rounds out the central characters as the grandfather, and he is great too. The actor unfortunately passed away earlier this year, a few weeks before the final edit of the film was ready (the film is dedicated to him).
An honest, hard look at an often overlooked social issue, Under the Naked Sky was the best film I've seen at the festival this year, and I would not be surprised if it remains on top, running off with the audience award at the end. The film will get a general release in the Netherlands later this month, and negotiations for an international release are underway. I wish this will find its audience, it deserves it. And for you, international audiences, I hope you'll be able to check it out soon. For this film comes highly recommended.
Onder de Blote Hemel
- Lilian Sijbesma
- Lilian Sijbesma
- Ylse Ringeling
- Rifka Lodeizen
- Johan Leysen