VIOLET. Impressive debut by Bart Devos.


We see 2 groups of 2 teenagers on a CCTV (Closed Corner Television) of a small shopping center. One of the teenagers is being attacked. Jesse -who sees his friend Jonas being stabbed and die in front of his eyes- appears  nailed to the ground, unable to react. Suddenly the image starts to rewind and we realise we have been watching these images with several police officers who are investigating the footage that captured the tragic events. We sense a similarity to the Joe Van Holsbeeck killing.

Jesse who’s part of a close group of BMX riders (as was Jonas) has to deal with his own feelings of guilt and with the questions of the rest of the group and his and Jonas’ family.
The film is really a mood piece thriving on atmosphere using a lot of long sequences shots, many of which are cheer magic.  The shot were the camera follows the BMX kids slowly riding in a calm neighbourhood, constantly shifting focus. The shots of them riding and jumping on a track in a forest, following them when they are in the back of a pick-up truck and get on a highway, … . Extremely impressive.

In interviews Bart Devos -who made his feature length debut with Violet- never reveals his inspirations but his film has often been compared with the work if Gus Van Sant and Béla Tarr.
As Violet owes a lot to it’s DoP Nicholas Karakatsanis I believe that the film is at least as much inspired by the work of Gus Van Sant’s regular DoP Harris Savides (1957-2012) then by Van Sant.
It would be interesting to compare the scene in Jonathan Glazer’s Birth (2004), which was shot by Savides, of the arrival in the opera of the character played by Nicole Kidman shortly after she had a somewhat traumatic experience, with a similar scene in Violet during a concert of the black metal band Deafheaven. Both scenes are shot in one single long take in which the camera slowly moves in on the main character to reveal their emotional devastation. No way this shot from Birth wasn’t on the director or the DoP’s mind when they were shooting Violet.

The danger with long sequences shots is that if they do not work the film really falls flat for a moment which luckily does not happen that often. The film is very spare with dialogue and it’s lack of explanation may well alienate or frustrate a large section of the audience.
For me the weakest moments in the film are those when Jesse visits Jonas’ father and we get some Tarkovsky like ‘it’s raining on the inside of a house symbolising the presence of a holy spirit’ scenes which have a really heavy and pretentious feel to them which I’m not a particularly big fan of. But when it works we get to see some magical and original cinematic moments.

Jan Bollen

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