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When It Melts – Sundance 2023 (Film Review)

3 min read

Still Courtesy - The Party Sales

All it takes is just one mysterious Facebook notification for a cyclone of buried memories to take over a victim's life. In ' directorial debut, a young woman's upbringing in a distant village is examined through a granular lens, as the film contextualises the root and subsequent cause of her thawing trauma. At its most engaging peak, When It Melts infuses arresting metaphors and confident blocking to emphasise its sensitive subject matter. Baetens, best known for her performance work in the Academy-Award nominated , confidently displays a passionate affection for filmmaking. When It Melts avoids disquieting coverage at all costs, to portray Eva's perspective without the need for fetishistic melodrama. In various moments of on-screen vulnerability, Baetens utilises uncomfortable long takes. The camera's handheld movement emulates an unpredictable train of thought; weaving in and out of Eva's subconscious. Baetens' formalism indicates the direction of Eva's reconfiguration of trauma; as the narrative reconstruction shifts between her past & present in languid form. 

To bring the viewer closer to Eva's yielding subconscious, Baetens builds a creative paradigm within her perilous environments. Utilising distinct colour psychology, the film alternates between the chilling regression of the present with the sun-bathed innocence of the past, within the hues of the winter & summer seasons. There's a consistent yin-yang present in Baetens' directorial vision; both in a thematic and visual context. The adaptive work is justified due to her purposeful Mise-en-scène, amplifying the need for an adaptation by humanising Eva even further, through the presence of the human gaze. 

Still Courtesy – The Party Sales

Some may argue that When It Melts is borderline irresponsible in its cinematic depictions, by recreating the trauma written in the literary text with the intent of inducing the viewer with miserabilist exploitation. Reactions may vary, as the commanding presence of Eva's embodied performers skill-fully and effectively bring her to life on-screen. The original text entitled The Melting is now reincarnated through Charlotte De Bruyne's & Rosa Marchant's revelatory performances; as their lingering stares evoke a precarious sadness. There's a nauseating malaise in Eva's present-day mannerisms ​​— cross referenced with her free-spirited posture during her younger years. On the flip-side, where the cinematic adaptation fails is in its structural effectiveness. The film's various time jumps suffer from an erratic framing device, constantly going against the momentum and tension of its visual chronology. The episodic re-telling is constant to a fault, lacking breathing room to truly unsettle the viewer within its disturbing recount of sporadic events. The material in novelistic form may be remarkable, but the film's script is unfortunately impatient. 

When It Melts never aims to provide complete closure to the traumatic events at the crux of the film. Instead, the narrative re-inforces its devastating reminder on how many cases revolving around sexual violence are often left unresolved in the eyes of the public and the lives of innocent victims. The film's somewhat nihilistic finale is ultimately caused by the grip of communal silence. As the lack of judicial intervention creates another domino-trail for Eva's deteriorating mental-state, the viewer is forced to observe her fleeting recollections, as Baetens concludes her mature debut with a fragment of profound dread. 

Still Courtesy – The Party Sales
When It Melts premiered at this year's , as part of the ‘World Cinema Dramatic' competition. The film is currently seeking international distribution.