Rotterdam Films

Rijneke & van Leeuwaarden


Dick Rijneke & Mildred Van Leeuwaarden


Imagine… A place, somewhere in the western world: Voro-Nova. A place where a small-time trader lives, alone. Sometimes his girl friend drops by. A place where children play, talk, fight. What could be their connection? He lives isolated, in the middle of a port, surrounded by all kinds of consumer society trash, computers, cameras. He appears to have a chewing-gum slot-machine business. The children, most of them from non-western countries, discover the place. They play, they talk, they fight. He observes them. They use the place. They could make a party, together. It could be a movie about life and survival. A film, made in 1984… Voro-Nova.

Voro-Nova: the poetry of pictorial language

The beginning of a film: an empty motorway, a car is coming. The camera follows the driver of the car for some time, and the viewer expectantly follows what the camera sees. This man is possibly the main character in a developing story. He seems to be going somewhere. He might get entangled in an intricate love-affair or he might be on the trail of a conspiracy of gangsters. The music backs up such suspicions. The pictorial language provides the first thoughts and, as it’s not the first time you’ve seen a film, the first preconceptions arise. Every film starts as an exploration of images, language and music whereby the filmmakers reveal their secret little by little. Their carefully dosed signs point in a certain direction whereby the curiosity for what will happen next usually builds up the tension. Will the love between him and her ever be possible? Will good ever conquer evil? The willingness to complete the puzzle is more than present. The need for (temporary) solutions is great, for once the catharsis has come about you breath a sign of relief and go home satisfied. Whether it was beautifully romantic or horrifyingly creepy, the story is told with a beginning, a middle and an end and it becomes clear where it all began and where it will end.

Other patterns start to develop when a main character hardly appears to say a word, images repeat themselves at unexpected moments, actions don’t seem to be leading anywhere and people are filmed only as a part of the general scenery. Then the story that should have been told, is not, and suddenly there’s apparently no straight line anymore between the beginning and the end. It could only be about life, everyday life or what you experience at night in your dreams. The events no longer take place according to a preconceived plan but they happen to you like in a nightmare or like a discovery, during the daily ritual of breakfast, that you no longer love the woman sitting opposed to you. There begins an uncertain confusion in which the sight of a boiled egg could mean a threat to your marriage, or in which a chase through the jungle could mean a row at work. The straight line changes into a labyrinth or a circle and every moment that follows could mean a step forward but could just as well mean a step back.

Voro-Nova is a film about life. Nothing very tangible happens. There are only a few facts. A man lives in a house on the edge of a city, on an obscure demolition site by a river, a small beach with crooked trees and stocks and a number of small ramshackle buildings. Perhaps the woman who appears now and then lives there too. The children don’t seem to live there, but they are, however, constantly present on the site. They play their games there with the lid of a drain, a car or with each other. Like ever recurring rituals, they tell each other mystical stories, or they challenge each other to a fight. The jungle of rubble, refuse and vegetation run wild, is their kingdom and there they walk about as though completely at home. The man plays too, in his own way. Mostly indoors using advanced technology (computers, monitors, printing and speaking calculators). Just like the children, he follows the rules of his game with a serious matter-of-factness, as if it couldn’t possibly be otherwise. All the man’s actions are performed with the close precision that could lead to an invention. From the discussions between the children about love and sex, a nice romance could start, and during the whole film the anticipation of a confrontation between the man and the woman or the man and the children remains. A girl speaks in a sing-song voice:

you walk through the woods

you hear footsteps a man comes after you

you walk faster, faster, faster and he grabs you

he knocks seven nails in your back

he ties seven ropes around them

and he pulled and he pulled…

The atmosphere changes. The children snigger but nothing happens, nothing of what you expect. The worlds live their separate lives without any support of a chronological story, for almost ninety minutes. In the flow of images, only beginnings of a story are hinted at, nothing is ever finished. The expectations conjured up are never fulfilled.

The people who appear on the screen have no background, no past and probably also no future. They are just there for as long as the film lasts, indefinate and temporary, just as their surroundings. The location is indefinable un-Dutch, of this day, at the most. It could possibly happen in the near future. It makes no difference really. The viewer can fill in his own images, let his thoughts drift on vague recognition or fantasy. The conceptions of time and space are introduced in Voro-Nova as dimensions of the mind, whereby the unequivocal truths disappears.

The life of the man in the film is that of an outsider, an individual. He looks at the outside world only through his equipment, like a spy. In doing so he isn’t hostile, rather analytical. He watches closely without anything seeming to touch him. His surroundings and his life pass like a habit, without any reference to tragedy or happiness. Even when the outside world literally invades his house, in the form of a party, he sticks to the part of a withdrawn observer. The camera records this also as a ‘neutral’ observer. As a viewer you never have one particular interpretation forced upon you. It seems as though the searching images want to say: ‘It is what it is, for as long as the images stay on the retina’. The film conjures up impressions as fantasy, fallacy or perhaps an existing reality, backed up by evocative music and sounds. This dimension of meaning, just as the image, creates expectations and at the same time breaks with the codes of the traditional film-music. When you hear a child’s voice saying ‘This is a doomed house’ the music swells and for a moment the genie seems actually to escape from the bottle. The tension rises, but nothing happens, again nothing.

Stripped of the ballast of chronology it is continuously balancing on the thin line between technology and mysticism, progress and decay, reality and illusion. The separate worlds of children and adults, of men and women form a field of tension in which these extreme opposites sometimes overlaps smoothly. As far as film conventions are concerned, the makers of Voro-Nova are skating on thin ice. Within this form of expression, the need for something to hold on to seems to be greater than for instance within art or literature. As a recording medium, film still has a steady foothold in a realistic imagery of reality. With respect to a painting one is used to talking about the emotional force of an abstract image. In poetry one doesn’t even look for the chronology of a story. The few words of a poem can, because of their compact form, evoke complete worlds without being clear cut.

With their film, Van Leeuwaarden and Rijneke break away from the heritage of realism of the medium. They portray as poetry, the feeling and meaning of visual sensibility. They use the language of the images, light, colour, space and sound, rather than that of the words of the story. With a well balanced quantity of imagery they make visible the invisible as a (personal) observation of a (personal) reality. And the viewer is invited to go with them, not to accept it as something straight-forward and matter-of-fact, but to just let it happen. If you let your eyes see, and at that same time moment your thoughts determine the atmosphere, the result can only be that Voro-Nova happens to you the way life itself happens to you, but is nevertheless an exciting experience.

– Moniek Merkx


16 mm/35 mm Blow Up, 86 min, colour

Production: Rotterdam Films/Rijneke & Van Leeuwaarden

Script and direction: Dick (Dirk) Rijneke and Mildred van Leeuwaarden

Co-production: NOS television

Production assistant: Gabriëlle Anceaux

Production co-ordinator: Jan Heijs

Camera: Dick Rijneke

Sound: Mildred van Leeuwaarden

Camera assistants: Izaak van der Noordt, Marc Homs

Steadicam operator: Frans van Zijverden

Light: Dick Rijneke, Guido Vooren

Editing: Dick Rijneke en Rob van Steensel

Editing advice: Wim Louwrier

Music: Felix Visser

Cast: Aat Ceelen, Petra Rhijnsburger, Harry van Es, Mirjam Citroen, Marga Weimans, Simone Weimans, Darryl Oosterling, Brian, Clyde and Jimmy Loe-A-Foe

Festivals: Rotterdam (opening night), Toronto, Riga, Valladolid, Bergamo, Montréal, São Paulo, Madrid.

Broadcasted by NOS television Frist Prize at the Art Exhibtion ARCO ’91, Madrid.

Distributed by International Art Film, Amsterdam