Stages Movie Review,Stages(2007),Stages-Story Line

November 22, 2008

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The phrase “divorced couple” sounds like an oxymoron, but there’s really no other way to describe Roos (Elsie de Brauw) and Martin (Marcel Musters), the Dutch ex-spouses whose table talk dominates “Stages,” an oblique, intermittently intriguing film by Mijke de Jong. For these two the line between love and hate is not so much thin as crooked and blurry. Their habitual affection for each other is obvious, but also frequently indistinguishable from mutual contempt.

Ms. de Jong’s method is not to delve into their history or overheat the domestic drama, but rather to hover as they fight, commiserate, flirt and complain. “Stages” is structured as a series of conversations in public places — between Roos and Martin, and also between each of them and various colleagues and friends — interspersed with scenes of their teenage son, Isaac (Stijn Koomen), in solitude.

Isaac is behaving in disturbing ways. He breaks into strangers’ apartments, stealing time and space rather than property, and his prized possession is a fearsome samurai sword. When Roos, with whom he lives, comes home, Isaac retreats into his iPod.

For Roos and Martin, Isaac is a shared concern and a source of contention and competition, an excuse for each to blame and berate the other. For the audience he is an enigma, not least because we wonder what traits of temperament he has inherited from his parents. Martin, a slovenly, chain-smoking writer whose bluff amiability frequently slides toward boorishness, thinks Roos should just let Isaac be free. It’s clear that he regarded their marriage as a constraint on his own freedom, and it’s also possible to see Roos, through his eyes, as a passive-aggressive worrier.

Still, she is much more likable than her ex-husband, though “Stages” is studiously even-handed, even clinical in its observations. The camera floats behind heads and in front of faces, as Ms. de Jong rejects the usual grammar of shot and countershot, making you feel as if you’re eavesdropping on intimate, meandering conversations.

Some of which you may not want to hear. Gleaning intimate details from the public discourse of strangers can be fascinating, but not always edifying. “Stages” feels less like an invasion of privacy than like an oversharing introduction to people you might not want to know in the first place. That an American art-house audience is likely to recognize Martin and Roos — earnest, self-satisfied intellectuals who spend a lot of time in restaurants — does not necessarily make them appealing. Or even all that interesting, however incisive Ms. de Jong’s exploration of their shared discontent may be.

STAGES

Directed by Mijke de Jong; written by Jolein Laarman and Ms. de Jong; director of photography, Ton Peters; edited by Dorith Vinken; produced by Joost de Vries and Leontine Petit; released by Lemming Film. At Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, west of Avenue of the Americas, Greenwich Village. In Dutch, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Elsie de Brauw (Roos), Marcel Musters (Martin), Stijn Koomen (Isaac) and Jeroen Willems (Joris).
Correction: November 07, 2008

A film review on Wednesday about “Stages,” a Dutch movie about a divorced couple, referred incorrectly to the director, who was also a co-writer of the film. The error also appeared in a listing of credits. The director, Mijke de Jong, is a woman.

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