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THE SEA THAT THINKS [De Zee Die Denkt] (2000).

Films about writers always intrigue me. When they suck, they get everything wrong; but if they connect into the creative process, the results can be both magical and scary for someone too close to the topic. This artsy Dutch mindfuck definitely falls into the later category. It's a remarkable, frustrating, entrancing slice of cinematic brilliance, and writer-director-cinematographer Gert de Graaff spent over 10 years developing its visuals and adapting classic optical illusions into cinematic form. At times it makes you think "what if?" MC Escher had access to a movie camera. The story's non-linear structure makes it impossible to adequately describe, but I'll do my best. It begins on a playful note, with a series of dreams, as a man (Rick de Leeuw) awakens to an obtrusive film crew, or literally shrinks as he crosses the room to answer his phone. We then watch fragmented images on a TV screen, until our outlook is suddenly shifted 180 degrees, to a POV from within assorted television sets -- watching the people who are watching them -- a family in their living room, a distorted image from a broken set, and an infant playing with a remote control... OK, what the hell is going on?... 20 minutes into the movie, we finally realize this is a visual representation of a rambly screenplay that's being written by Bart (Bart Klever). Frustrated with his work, he's inspired to write himself into his own script, with the author's real life suddenly mirroring the twists in his manuscript. Unfortunately, Bart's screenplay isn't a happy love story. Instead, it's a nutty, overwrought, introspective examination of oneself and the struggle for happiness. Full of misinformation, spectacular camera tricks and sudden shifts in perspective, the film's title refers to a story about a sea, who one day thought it was a tree. This thin line between reality and perception is constantly blurred, but would you expect anything less in a movie about a man writing a screenplay about a man writing a screenplay? No surprise, his ex isn't thrilled by his 'masterpiece' on the mystery of "I", and as increasingly-obsessed Bart holes himself up like a hermit (albeit with an infant and his cats), his life becomes as clogged as his screenplay, until the only option is 'delete.' It's no surprise this hypnotic feature never made it to the US, since few American moviegoers would run to see a smart, surreal dissection of an artist's mind and the writing process. One quick warning: anyone confused by mildly-clever pics like ADAPTATION or BEING JOHN MALKOVICH will suffer a cerebral hemorrhage during this delirious mindblower. As for myself, I was mesmerized from beginning to end.

© 2003 by Steven Puchalski.