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Silhouette Recommends – Abel (Voyeur)

June 28, 2018 | By

Silhouette members discussed and debated Alex van Warmerdam’s Abel (Voyeur) following a private screening. Abel, a thirty year old man, is voyeuristic and agoraphobic who never left his parent’s house and does not do anything for a living. After quite a few unsuccessful attempts by his tyrannical father Victor and overprotective mother Duif to change him, Abel is thrown out of the house to face the city life, the feuds between his parents and ultimately finding a new home with a stripper. Abel is an extremely weird comedy mocking the modern middle class family values, questioning its imposition to typecast based on vague concepts of sanity and normalcy. Silhouette recommends the film.

(dir: Alex van Warmerdam, Netherlands, 100 min.)

van Warmerdam’s Abel (Voyeur), 1986

van Warmerdam’s Abel (Voyeur), 1986

Recommended by:
Amitava Nag, Anwesha Deb, Partha Sarathi Raha, Sambaran Sarkar, Subhadeep Ghosh

Things that worked:

The most noteworthy part of the film is its treatment which elegantly combines apparent weirdness with a comedy that turns out to be a commentary on the social constructs underneath. Amitava pointed out that the inherent comedy has a satirical tone rather than it being a black comedy since Abel, the protagonist included himself as an object of satire. Subhadeep observed that the weirdness inherent in the plot did not lead to an overt melodrama surprisingly. It remained realistic with its narrative grounded in banal events of day to day life. The ‘abnormality’ treated ‘normally’ is a key strength of the film in terms of both content and form.

For Anwesha, the opposites of normality vs abnormality got blurred. Through the turns of events it became increasingly difficult to identify who were ‘sane’ in reality. Abel, regarded as insane initially, revealed more of his wisdom through the mockery to the world. The world, that had concluded Abel as insane, turned out to be ‘insane’ itself with all its obsession and typical middle class values – observed Sambaran.

van Warmerdam’s Abel (Voyeur)

Abel in his weird posture

Partha pointed out how the role of the observer (or the voyeur) and the subject got interchanged as plot progressed – establishing sanity as a relative perception determined always from the observer’s perspective. As the observer became the subject, the perception of sanity reversed. Like Abel (the subject) regarded as insane and forced to treatment by his parents (the observer) eventually catalyzed the revelation of his parents’ absurdity, hypocrisy, disordered relationships and fragility.

Amitava and Subhadeep pondered that the film probed the western family value system and probably the universal outlook of the modern world. Abel, being agoraphobic, had not been out of house for several years. He developed voyeuristic tendencies which were his window to world. At the age of thirty, he was not self dependent and mature in normal terms. Nevertheless he was wise, enough to understand people’s inherent eccentricities.

van Warmerdam’s Abel (Voyeur)

Abel with his parents when psychologist visited

Sambaran found his wisdom explored excellently throughout the story – in his interaction with his tyrant father, his overprotective mother, the obsessive Cathrine (the actress) or the psychologist. All of them, who try to make him change, were the representatives of so-called ‘normal’ society.

Amitava emphasized the intrinsic irony of the society which values the outward growth and conformity to its norms rather than valuing inner wisdom and human individuality. Abel found his home when he met Sis (Zus), the performer in peep show and an estranger to society herself. Quite strikingly, Sis, not a blonde, had to wear a blonde wig in order to be an object of desire for the deprived ‘white’ society. It betrayed that need for uniformity rooted so deep in common human psyche. Sis accepted Abel as he was. Probably, both are rebels, Subhadeep pointed out, Sis rebelled from outside while Abel did same from inside and they got unified within this identity

van Warmerdam’s Abel (Voyeur)

Abel at his room with his mother

The cinematography brilliantly sets the emotional tone of the film reflecting the mysteriousness of human mind and its ambivalence between sanity and insanity. The claustrophobic indoor and a surreal cityscape over the window was captured well through an intricate play of light and shadow. The outdoor shots likewise captured the realistic frames contradicted with unusual perspectives and distortions blending the absurdity and normalcy seamlessly.

Things that didn’t work:

The group found some excesses and logical incoherence in the film which could be done without – although not ruining the overall experience as such. For example the last scene was redundant, as Amitava commented, when Abel finally cut the fly with scissor.

van Warmerdam’s Abel (Voyeur)

Abel with scissors struggling to cut a fly

Subhadeep observed missing of balance sometimes especially during the acting workshop while Partha found the subtleties lost in over doing of the chase scenes of Abel and his father to make a comic impact. Sambaran found the character play of Abel’s mother not so impressive.

Parts of the film that will be remembered:

For Subhadeep, the scenes of New Year eve were extremely hilarious. He also liked the scenes at peep show when Abel’s father climbed to the top of the well breaking the voyeuristic gaze pattern of the audience. Sambaran remembered the scene as a cinematic climax when audience started knocking at the windows as Sis stopped performing. While for Amitava the overall impression of the perspectives created through binocular views made more impact than any specific moments, Anwesha found the last scene when Abel and Sis smiled at each other in particular as worth remembering.

The other texts (films or otherwise) which come to mind watching this:

Sis performing at peep show

Sis performing at peep show

Amitava and Anwesha found a lot of references to Hitchcokian treatment with mother’s get up, staging of staircase scenes, the cityscape looked through window, building of suspension and mystery through both visual detailing and plot, dramatizing the dark psychologies of human mind. However due to use of satirical elements as core building blocks and as critic of modern world, Amitava was inclined to conclude that content wise it could be closer to Woody Allen’s films while form wise it was Hitchcokian. Partha found a visual parallel with the Hollywood musical Chicago in its design of the stage at peep show, dominated with a metallic and lustful red. Sambaran recalled a thematic connection with Edward Lear’s limericks in its use of nonsensical humor combined with innocence of Abel. Subhadeep arugued that a hint of reference to Oedipus complex present in Abel’s relationship with his mother, although so vague and sublime that it cannot be concluded for sure – like the mysteries of mind itself.

Silhouette rating: 7/10

Content: 3.5/5
Cinematography: 3.5/5
Sound: 3.3/5
Overall Appeal: 7/10

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Creative Writing

Whether you are new or veteran, you are important. Please contribute with your articles on cinema, we are looking forward for an association. Send your writings to amitava@silhouette-magazine.com

Silhouette Film Society, formed in 2001 was a group of eventless youth who clubbed together in the placid afternoons of leisurely Calcutta Saturdays. They discussed cinema, argued with their PoVs, fought vociferously and loved the conundrum. Members joined and lost, to corporate bandwagons, to film schools and yet Silhouette sailed through with private film shows and an enviable magazine -  Silhouette to be proud of. Over time the print edition made way for a web magazine as the scope of the magazine expanded, members became busy, film shows were rare and confined to occasional festival meetings. Came 2018 the old musketeers regrouped again since they allowed enough nonsense with themselves. This film-viewing group of new friends and old sinners now plan to watch films regularly and write reports on them. The choice is deliberately arbitrary - an award winning film, an unexplored genius, a neo-avantgarde cacophony and what not. Masters will be exempted for greener pastures. Literally. The intention is not to shell out a film review in its typical gamut, rather this will be less formal and more personal. Silhouette recommends with ratings - so sit on the edge and enjoy the bang.
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