Another first feature at Raindance 2021, this time from Dutch director Jenneke Boeijink, Porcelain explores the fragility of family relationships in the face of a parent’s worst nightmare.
What do you do when your angelic child suddenly becomes ill and starts behaving out of control, yet nobody is able to give you an explanation?
Paul (Tom Vermeir) and his wife Anna (Laura de Boer) appear to have the perfect life. They have seemingly successful careers, an angelic-looking child, and a beautiful apartment. But they are about to discover just how fragile that all is when their young son Thomas (Neathan van der Gronden) falls ill. Whatever ails him can’t be pinned down medically and so he is sent home, leaving his mother to try to care for him and cope with his outbursts.
The film’s title, Porcelain, should be signal enough that things are about to crack irreparably. Exactly how and why is vague – at least to begin with.
Outside of the child’s illness, the catalyst for the fragility is Paul; the audience sees well before Thomas falls ill that he is actually a very unpleasant man with a distinctive line in relationship management. He’s arrogant, domineering, and bullish, exercising control in whatever way he can. It only gets worse when his child is ill as he has no power in the medical environment, and even his money can’t buy a solution. He lacks a way to either help his child or support his wife, and his business interests are suffering too.
Anyone expecting defeated and anxious parents squabbling and making up over a paediatric bed is in the wrong film theatre. There are several moments where viewers would be forgiven for wondering if they are about to see “We Need to Talk About Thomas”, or else that the film is about to take a demonic turn. But the path chosen is a lot more esoteric and totally unexpected.
A trip to Italy brings about a kind of reconciliation between some parties, while others take a different journey completely. The first half is full of anger and frustration, while the second is calmer and more introspective – they are almost separate films if it were not for the constant presence of the mysterious illness.
Porcelain chooses not to give explicit answers to the obvious questions; some viewers will be OK with this, others will not. I’m usually in the former category and don’t mind having to make my own mind up about things; and although this almost worked, the contrasts between the first and second halves lacked a little emotional coherence.
But as a first feature, Porcelain definitely attempts to explore a couple of interesting ideas and suggests that Jenneke Boeijink is a director to keep an eye on.