Characters exploring wild spaces in urban Brussels unearth treasures in director Bas Devos’ sublime city symphony.
Few contemporary filmmakers are as gifted as Bas Devos when it comes to exploring urban spaces that may seem mundane yet yield something magical. The deserving winner of two prizes at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year, the Belgian director’s fourth feature may be his richest and most revelatory work to date.
One reason is that it centres on two characters who share their creator’s appreciation for nuance. Stefan (Stefan Gota) is a construction worker in Brussels who’s preparing for a trip home to Romania. Over the course of his strolls and his farewell visits with friends and family — many of whom get to enjoy a bowl of the soup that Stefan has thoughtfully prepared — he has a fateful encounter with ShuXiu (Liyo Gong, co-editor on Wang Bing’s Youth (Spring), also playing the Festival), a doctoral student who also works in her aunt’s restaurant. ShuXiu’s area of research is mosses, and her poetic observations and insights on the topic of these ancient plants bring a new focus to Stefan’s interest in the wilderness that persists in the city’s parks and peripheries.
Shooting on 16mm and making extraordinary use of natural light, Devos captures their interactions with the world and each other with a sense of patience, grace, and limitless curiosity. In so doing, he has created a subtle, inventive, and deeply affecting celebration of the treasures that perpetually surround us, whether they are being shared with those next to us… or simply growing underfoot.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival