In Stages, Dutch director Mijke de Jong’s tensile family microdrama, the camera gets closer to its three main subjects than they can hope to get to each other. Over the course of a series of dinners at bougie ethnic restaurants (with each other and various confidants), recently divorced couple Martin (Marcel Musters) and Roos (Elsie de Brauw) are shot in unremitting, lash-grazing close-ups, piling blather between them like bulwarks as their screen-swallowing faces shout out a different story. Martin, a bellicose, hypomanic columnist, agrees to these dinners with his ex ostensibly to discuss the fate of their teenage son, Isaac (Stijn Koomen), a sullen stringbean who has taken up swordplay and a relatively benign form of breaking-and-entering. Martin accuses the fretful Roos of using their son as a pretense, and he may be right; both are too self-absorbed to access even their own suffering as much more than a talking point. De Jong’s technique of filming conversations with the camera latched onto one character for minutes at a time is both disorienting and almost suffocatingly intimate. The mutual contempt of Martin and Roos, in particular, is presented as intimacy writ toxic; they are at once total strangers and completely disgusted by how well they know each other. Their final exchange, after the funeral of a friend, brokers some softness and some breathing room: A two-shot has never looked more like a reprieve.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 5, 2008