Today’s film is the 2015 international award winning Dutch dark comedy Hemelpoort (Heavenly Gate) written and directed by Chris De Krijger and Mischa Dols. Starring Bart De Rijk, Romey Gevers and Henry Van Loon.
Hemelpoort is about Bill (Bart De Rijk) a slightly over weight man in his mid forties who after just waking up for breakfast slips on some fallen food and dies. The confused man is transported up to the Heavenly Gates where he is greeted by Pieter (Henry Van Loon) a rather rude receptionist who puts him through the screening process. Achieving the barest minimum to enter into Heaven Bill is allowed to relive one memory of his choosing before being permitted into the eternal realm, unfortunately for Bill having only scored a six on his test when he chooses his childhood first love he is transported by looking as he does now and must still go through with sleeping with his young girlfriend Kristan (Romy Gevers) . Pieter warns him however if he should die in his memory he will wind up trapped in limbo forever and now it is up to Bill not only survive his memory but to bring it to it’s completion despite his sever discomfort at having to sleep with a now much younger girl and her over eager parents trying to get him to get it on with her.
Over the years there have been many films that depict what happens after you die. Some of them are dark and serious (What Dreams May Come) and others are pure hilarity (Defending your Life) and Hemelpoort certainly falls into the latter category. It takes a serious subject matter and delivers such a stark and sarcastically deadpan view on the afterlife that you can’t help but grin at both Bill’s misfortune and the utterly uncompromising view of the heavenly gate guardian and his strict adherence to the rules. This is achieved by the stellar writing done by Chris De Krijger and Mischa Dols. The script is unique and lively and doesn’t fall into the cliches that many afterlife films find themselves trapped in and because of this the actors a handed a gem to perform. I don’t know what it is that makes foreign independent films get so much right and Hollywood fall flat in this regard but I am certainly glad in the instance as this film is a joy to watch.
It is very hard to judge the acting of a film that you do not understand the language of and subtitles can only tell you so much, that said however the performances of everyone involved in Hemelpoort is absolutely wonderful. Bart De Rijk’s Bill comes off as slightly apathetic yet with a faint sense of hopefulness and delivers his lines with great comedic timing, a very important aspect to any comedy film. Bart plays off the gruff and highly chaotic Henry Van Loon’s Pieter to perfection and you could almost want to watch an entire sketch comedy show of those two. Romy Gevers’ Kristan really feels as innocent and sweet as she looks and uses her girlish charms perfectly to make Bill uncomfortable. Each character is deeply thought out and comes to life through their wonderful acting that many mainstream movies manage to bungle but Hemelpoort handles perfectly.
The Heaven set of the film is very minimalist due I am sure to budget constraints but the directors manage to use this to their advantage by making it seem that Heaven is a very low budget place. From the sounds of old style screeching printers to Pieter having to shake the ‘Memory Machine’ to give it some special effects for Bill the film manages to not take itself to seriously while still managing to tell a entertaining story that doesn’t break your immersion. Other films have tried this in the past with mixed results but generally they end up ruining the movie for the audience but Hemelpoort handles it right and this is only one aspect of the very good production work on the film.
The cinematography of the film is impressive to say the least. The scenes were all crystal clear and brightly lit and never once dropped in quality in anyway. The shots were all arranged wonderfully and the use of cleaver little tricks with the camera lens warping effects gave the story a slightly ethereal feel at times during the flashback. This speaks of a highly talented director of photography and a skilled post production team that not only got all of the scenes concise and coherent but took out any imperfections and visual goofs that might have otherwise been left in by a less skilled team. Speaking of the post work the credits are some of the best I have seen done in an independent film and really bespoke a high deal of dedication and skill by the entire team.
The Audio work of course is just as skillfully handled as the cinematography. The voices of the characters are always clear and legible and there are no artifacts or hissing present in many films shot over seas. While many of you won’t be able to understand Dutch it is clear that the audio department was careful to make sure the characters got to deliver their performances professionally. The musical score is jaunty and adds a great deal of mirth to the dark little comedy and just really sets the tone for the entire film in a positive way.
In the end Hemelpoort is a wonderfully produced comedy film that takes a very satirical look at the afterlife and manages to not take itself to seriously despite bringing a deeply entertaining story. I have to admit I generally try to avoid reviewing films in a different language as they are hard to judge but if this is the quality of film I have been missing I am certainly going to change my mind about that. If you like deadpan dark comedies at a mere eleven minutes Hemelpoort is very much worth the time investment and I can almost guarantee it will leave you with a smile on your face.
Find out more here https://cargocollective.com/chrisdekrijger