When you come across a film using time manipulation as a device, it’s good to be wary - sometimes it works spectacularly, such as in ‘Memento’ or ‘(500) Days of Summer’, while other times it can be a confusing disaster. ‘Retrospekt’ bravely employs the technique and uses it to both obscure the outcome and build tension - but there’s so much more that makes this film an offbeat and edgy drama.
Mette (Circé Lethem) is a domestic violence support worker on maternity leave after the birth of her baby Michelle. When her husband Simon (Martijn van der Veen) leaves on a work trip, she finds herself bored at home with the newborn and older daughter Harrie. When Mette hears one of her old cases, Lee Miller (Lien Wildemeersch), is having issues with her husband Frank (Matteo van der Grijn) yet again, she reaches out to her, and invites her to stay in their home. But with Frank willing to stop at nothing to track Miller down, is she putting her family and herself in danger?
‘Retrospekt’ takes what could have been an ordinary linear story and turns it into something special by creating organised disorder. Through restructuring the timeline, you’re consistently left guessing what’s coming next and how all of these strands will tie together. It’s a fixating thriller, with an outcome that will keep you guessing until the end. What could have been an absolute mess with so many time jumps is actually a relatively easy to follow experience, largely thanks to the film’s limited settings and clever character work.
The composition of the film also helps to escalate the drama, with every element playing a vital part in throwing the audience off-kilter. Odd from its opening moments, writer/director/producer/editor Esther Rots (‘Can Go Through Skin’) uses operatic music over some of the most poignant and assaulting scenarios. The songs themselves are borderline ridiculous, but rather than being jarring, they actually work in escalating the unease of these scenes.
Rots describes the use of music as “…the idea and feeling of a fairytale. The brutally operatic music is romantic, absurd and dramatic. It narrates a parallel emotional development and uses humour to create distance where either the audience or Mette need a little space or hindsight.”
The composition of the film helps to escalate the drama, with every element playing a vital part in throwing the audience off-kilter.
And yet there’s so much more to the strain that ‘Retrospekt’ brings on. Rots’ own editing is stressful, using flashbacks of an accident, a hospital and other parts of Mette’s past to great effect. The cinematography also accentuates a feeling of anxiety, sometimes appearing too close to its subject, sometimes framing shots unevenly. At its most dramatic, the camera even physically crashes into Mette.
Lethem presents a powerhouse performance, offering two distinct sides to a character with crystal-clear clarity as to Mette’s time and place. For such a serious film, there’s a lot of joy to be found, and much of that comes from her portrayal - there’s more laughters and smiles than would traditionally be found in such a story, but it brings Mette to life. In contrast, there is also a great deal of emotion that goes into the role, as this mum of two left on her own struggles with the unyielding series of events that she sets in motion.
Mystery hangs in the air for the duration of ‘Retrospekt’, permeating as an almost tactile substance you can reach out and touch. It’s by no means an easy watch, and will deter some with its idiosyncrasies and subject matter, but it’s a film with a lot to say and a creative way of saying it.