Skogafoss

By Niels Bourgonje | Drama
A young man goes to Iceland with his girlfriend. Then his mentally-ill mother calls.

Gijs is on vacation in Iceland with his girlfriend, taking in the magnificent nature of the country. But while they're at the beautiful Skogafoss waterfall, Gijs gets a call from his elderly mother.

At first, the call seems like any other phone call between a son and his mother. But as it proceeds, Gijs realizes his mother's mental state is deteriorating, to the point of no return.

Written by Bastiaan Tichler and directed by Niels Bourgonje, this restrained yet affecting short drama captures the moment in a young man's life where he realizes that his mother's mental state has deteriorated beyond any help he can give. It combines poetic, stunning visuals with psychological intimacy, encapsulating both an enchanting voyage in the physical world and a tumultuous one emotionally.

The film leverages the stunning setting of the Skogafoss waterfall in Iceland, and the inherent drama of the landscape is captured in equally pristine, luminous cinematography and camerawork. The first half of the film maximizes the visual beauty, often framing Gijs in wide shots as he talks on the phone with his mother. Amidst this personal interruption, Gijs's life is percolating along, full of relationships and travel, and the phone call seems a distraction from his main life.

But as the phone call proceeds, the thoughtful, beautifully sculpted dialogue begins to shift, from a fairly benign conversation of a mother seeking assurance from her son to something difficult and troubling. The camera then edges closer and closer, progressing from wide shots to closeups with each turn in the conversation. Gijs's mother reveals that all is not well or normal with her: her anxiety and worries have shifted into outright paranoia.

As Gijs, actor Martijn Lakemeier essentially carries the film, as we never cut away to the mother on the other line. He starts slightly distracted, trying to take in the scenery as he talks to his mother. But as he slowly realizes the extent of his mother's mental deterioration, he has nothing less than a revelation, one that will likely reshape his life when he comes home from vacation.

"Skogafoss" is about those moments in life when you realize that something fundamental has shifted in the firmament, and the people and relationships you once took as a given can no longer be taken for granted. Through patient and rewarding craftsmanship and storytelling, it captures the slow burn of helplessness that descends on a child when their parent declines irrevocably. When that decline happens because of mental illness, the loss feels especially wrenching. It's like experiencing grief before someone has actually died -- a feeling so cataclysmic that it can render moments of ravishing beauty bittersweet, and a symbol of nature's majesty becomes a monument to inexorable personal loss.




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