(Cineuropa) Rotterdam 2019 Review: The Beast in the Jungle
Screened in the Limelight section as part of the latest edition of Rotterdam Film Festival, the Dutch director Clara Van Gool’s second feature, The Beast In the Jungle, is a music-based adaptation of the eponymous story by Henry James, The Beast in the Jungle. James’ love story, originally set in Victorian England, has been transposed by Van Gool into various historical periods: the late 19th century, the First World War and modern-day London, while its two protagonists, John Marcher (Dane Jeremy Hurst) and May Bartram (Sarah Reynolds) chase each other throughout the film, caught up in a whirlwind of impossible love.
The film’s fragmented and confused storytelling – the result of the characters being displaced in terms of space and time – is accompanied by elegant dance moves performed by the protagonists, a universal yet chaste dance that describes the complex inward-looking life of James’ John Marcher. Clara Van Gool’s film plays a game of opposites in order to address the protagonists’ inability to communicate: the characters’ constant physical movement contrasts with their sexual frigidity, suspended between life and death in a perennial waiting game, condemned to static tenderness.
The film has been influenced by numerous important visual references, from Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog painting, to certain cursed and forgotten cinematic masterpieces, such as Pandora by Albert Lewin and Portrait of Jennie by William Dieterle, built in timeless imaginary worlds. The absence of time and its passing represents the film’s founding yet inconceivable basic concept. Time is the true Beast in the Jungle, despite (and here is another of the film’s ambiguities) the mantra relayed by the coachman/taxi driver played by Sam Louwyck (The Wild Boys, Baden Baden): time is the only thing we have at our disposal.
The film leaves its audience with two feelings in particular –melancholy given the film’s philosophical reflections and the joy of having received an invitation: an invitation to experience the relationship we have with life, and therefore with cinema, as a long yet very short twist dance, both intense yet light-hearted at the same time, just like The Beast in the Jungle.
The Beast in the Jungle was produced by KeyFilm (the Netherlands) and Amour Fou Luxembourg (Luxembourg) and will be distributed in the Netherlands by September Film. International sales are being handled by Picture Tree International.