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Quality Time

Quality Time

[…] In the way in which we look at their lives through the elegantly poised positioning of the lens, coupled with the film’s harmonious compositions, we are given the experience of innocence, sometimes beauty, that each of the narratives told, and reality of this phenomenon belie.

[…] Filmed overhead with drone technology (the first use in art I’ve really enjoyed), the ordinariness of rooftops is transformed into richly textured landscapes; while in other scenes, the camera fixes a committed sidelong view upon action rarely visible, and always not heard.

[…] Both meditative and frustrating, this endless acoustic loop not only traps the family in a pained but polite listening, it beautifully performs the dilemma for all five protagonists: the boy never really becoming the man, and the man never able to return to or continue being the boy.

The masculine is often understood in relation to the feminine as a strict polarity: that which it is not. Dutch director Daan Bakker’s Quality Time explores this theme as a fragile movement from boyhood to manhood within the context of the family unit, as one that is either extended, intimate, or someone else’s. The five male protagonists, each appearing in one of the five parts that comprise Quality Time, struggle with their present identities in projects and ventures where the id encounters the super-ego as an engorged flashing dot about to explode out of milk and ham (Koen), or as a future-self scaring their child-self in a wolf costume after some nifty time travel in a beat-up, late 70s, cream-coloured Peugeot (Kjell). Individual crises of varying scale are revealed through fake and failed performances of masculinity that ultimately shape their very being. From birth to the grave, these boys to men are imperfect, grotesque, and often without dignity. And yet, despite all this, there is a touching simplicity to their vulnerability. In the way in which at their lives through the elegantly poised positioning of the lens, coupled with the film’s harmonious compositions, we are given the experience of innocence, sometimes beauty, that each of the narratives tell, and that the reality of this phenomenon belies.    

Koen (Part I) is a flashing white dot on a solid red background. He flashes as he speaks in muffled tones. We learn that he is to attend a family reunion in 17 days, for 10 minutes, for the 26th time. We are privy to Koen’s distress over the expectation to perform the gustatory feat of consuming copious amounts of ham and milk to make the family laugh – especially Uncle Ben. Koen fails to break free from this childhood demand in order not to disappoint: a sense of duty that appears to compromise his individual “dotness”, and worse, causing violence to the kind of dot he tries to be. This visually stripped-back vignette utilises the Atari game aesthetic of awkward flashing shapes that move at a snail’s pace. They evoke the image of human molecules and suggest that these absurd roles performed for family are not social constructions, but that they are biologically compelled and determined to assume these roles. Finally, Koen no longer pretends to be sick for laughter when he finds an end to his suffering with true nausea.

Stephaan (Part II) has had a breakdown. Moving in with his parents, he embarks on a new project photographing scenes of his childhood: the dressing room of the local sports club; the fishing spot where he would cast a line; the grave of his dead dog; the cupboard of his first kiss in the house where the girl, now a married mother, still lives; and the places of his birth and conception. These sites of boyhood are approached with the camera to heal the broken man: a nostalgic turn meant to remediate the failure of manhood. Stephaan physically enters each memory in its “exact location” with a voyeurism that has him re-experience scents, emotions, tastes and a deeper metaphysical connection to his life.

We never hear the dialogue, but read subtitles that float from the tiny, and sometimes absent figures who are effaced from the frame by the places themselves. Filmed from overhead with drone technology (the first use I’ve really enjoyed in art), the ordinariness of rooftops is transformed into richly textured landscapes; while in other scenes, the camera fixes a committed sidelong view upon action rarely visible and never heard. The black and white stills he snaps offer a stark and morbid contrast to the quiet, but colourful frames of the moving camera, suggesting that memories offer no panacea to the ills of the present. But what if you could change the past, as Kjell (Part III) attempts to do with his friend’s uncle’s time machine.

Blaming his social anxiety and emasculation on a teacher who spanks him on the bum at age 3, Kjell goes back to set the future straight. Wanting further closure, he meddles in the development of his masculinity by abducting his child-self and staging, with cast and crew, an interactive fairy tale. Freeing both Excalibur’s sword, the king beneath the tree, and kissing a hand puppet that turns into a hot babe, Kjell-the-boy temporally catches up with Kjell-the-man who performs as the big bad wolf. Horrified by the terror it brings on his boyhood self, Kjell the man commits suicide with a sword. In bearing witness to this at age 3, a return to the past has solved nothing and forever left him in a state beyond psychological repair.  

The next vignette is even more strange and absurdly grotesque. After being abducted by aliens as a teenager (a metaphor for most parents' experience of teenagehood), Karel (Part IV) is returned as a young man, mute and amorphous. Shot in grainy black and white, Karel’s world is hyper-stylised in movement and direction, reflecting the oddness of Karel’s embodiment. His parents try to lure the human back from his catatonic state, but Karel is unable to lose his “alien-ness”, eventually transforming into the featureless growth that protrudes from his stomach. When his parents find their natural end, he becomes nothing more than the family dog’s plaything. Part IV is humorous, but bleak. We gain little comfort from the articulated deformity and overbearing sense of loss that parents can experience in a son’s violent movement from boy to man.

Finally, Jef (Part V) is invited to spend Pentecost weekend with his girlfriend’s family, meeting them for the first time. Although the events are undramatic, they are all painful, mini-catastrophes for Jef who is trying hard to relax and to present a picture of the potentially perfect son-in-law. Good intentions and efforts backfire in cringing scenes that crush his confidence. We are left with a campfire scene of Jef the budding musician (a euphemism for not having any clear ambitions) strumming an endless arrangement of chords without any progression. Both meditative and frustrating, this endless acoustic loop not only traps the family in a pained but polite listening, it beautifully portrays the dilemma that all five protagonists are struggling with: the boy never really becoming the man, and the man never able to return to or continue being the boy.

It is possible for each of the five parts to stand alone, but in order for Baaker’s exploration of the theme to have any impact, and for us to gain the full poetic experience of the temporal and visual diversity that each of the lives offers in this stunning mosaic of filming styles, we must view it as a whole, and perhaps more than once. 

First published: December 13, 2017

Quality Time | Film | Daan Bakker | NL 2017 | 85’ | VIFFF Vevey, Cinéma Bellevaux Lausanne

Winner of the VIFFF, Vevey International Funny Film Festival 2017

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Screenings at Cinéma Bellevaux Lausanne

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