Film Review: Lost Persons Area


A moody, atmospheric feature debut from Flemish director Caroline Strubbe about a young girl and her relationship with one of her father's workers, partially in English

Feature debut

Finally, what you’ve all been waiting for: a Flemish film in English. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration: there is Dutch spoken in this first full-length feature by director Caroline Strubbe, which opens across Flanders this week. But, based on an introspective atmosphere of silences and the presence of foreigners, the dialogue is scant and about half in English.

Strubbe has returned to filmmaking after winning awards in the 1990s with her short films, and this quiet, tense study of a family living – literally and figuratively – on the edge is a welcome return.

Sam Louwyck (the deaf one in Ex-Drummer) plays Marcus, who heads up a crew repairing and maintaining electrical pylons in an industrial wasteland peppered by scrub brush and trailer homes. Seen through a grainy, hand-held camera, he lives there with his partner Bettina (Lisbeth Gruwez, a Flemish dancer in her film debut) and their nine-year-old daughter Tessa.

The passion between the couple flows easily from the beginning; it’s with Tessa where the family’s dysfunction shows. She spends most of her time getting filthy on the roof of the trailer when she’s not cutting school to gather up dead animals, banana peels or other bits of garbage, much of which she hides under her bed.

Although sweet towards her, Tessa’s parents don’t seem to notice her obvious unhappiness. But Szabolcs does. He’s the new Hungarian working on the site, who turns out to be very valuable when the company owners find out that Marcus’ professional certificate has expired – credentials it turns out that Szabolcs has. This eventually uneasy partnership between the two men is made more complicated after a tragic accident.

Both parents are strong performers, but it’s Zoltan Miklos Hajdu as Szabolcs and Kimke Desart as Tessa who boost Lost Persons Area to a higher level. Szabolcs’ even gaze and meditative attitudes, shared with Bettina in intimate conversations, give a sense of calm relief to the film – and to Tessa. For her part, we soon see – in one very poignant way and in one cathartic, disturbing one – just what she can do with all those found objects.

As the relationships break down, a film that, in many ways, is about doing what is best for those we love, moves steadily forward to its final quietly shocking denouement. And, in a strange way, it proves what Bettina confides to Szabolcs earlier on: “Even the worst mom is a good one.”