Thu, Feb 15, 2018 - Page 14 News List

An ode to Taipei and photography

Dutch film director David Verbeek returns to Taipei for the third time with ‘An Impossibly Small Object,’ his feature film that made its world premiere at the recently-concluded International Film Festival Rotterdam

By Paige Lim  /  Contributing reporter in Rotterdam

An Impossibly Small Object explores the relationship between a photographer and his subject, with Dutch filmmaker David Verbeek acting for the first time by playing himself as a photographer in the film.

Photo courtesy of David Verbeek

When Dutch filmmaker David Verbeek visited Taiwan for the first time in 2007, he remembers being inexplicably drawn to its enigmatic charms.

“There was something about the atmosphere in the streets of Taiwan that I found very peculiar, totally different from what I had experienced anywhere else before in Europe or Asia. I couldn’t quite express it very well, but it felt mysterious, suspenseful and a little bit scary,” he says.

More than a decade later, the director’s love affair with Taiwan continues with An Impossibly Small Object, his latest feature that marks the third film that he has shot in Taipei. The movie made its world premiere at the recently-concluded International Film Festival Rotterdam and was one of eight nominees for the festival’s VPRO Big Screen Award, though it did not win. It is set for a commercial release in Taiwan on April 27.

This year, a total of five Taiwanese films, including two shorts, were screened at the 47th edition of the film festival, considered by industry professionals as one of the most important in Europe. This included the world premiere of Hsiao Ya-chuan’s (蕭雅全) Father To Son (范保德), which was also in the running for the VPRO Big Screen Award, and Yang Ya-che’s (楊雅?) Golden Horse Award-winning film The Bold, the Corrupt and the Beautiful (血觀音).

In An Impossibly Small Object, Verbeek plays a Dutch photographer who takes a photograph of eight-year-old Xiaohan as she plays with her kite in a parking lot in nighttime Taipei. We are then transported into Xiaohan’s life, where she is faced with the impending separation from her childhood best friend, Hao Hao, who is migrating to New York.

The latter half of the film takes place in the Netherlands, where the photographer is confronted with his own loneliness and is reminded of his childhood by the photograph of Xiaohan.

Much of the movie blurs the lines between the narrative and the documentary, with autobiographical elements of Verbeek’s experiences as a roving photographer weaved into the story. The 38-year-old even shot part of the film in his own house in Amsterdam.

Childhood, transition and displacement are central themes in the film, which also seeks to ask philosophical questions about the intricate relationship between a photographer and his subject.

“You see the struggle of the photographer because he is always traveling, and how he doesn’t feel at home anymore — this is something that I’ve also been dealing with in my own life,” says Verbeek, who has lived in Taiwan and other parts of Asia for extended periods. He is appearing as an actor for the first time in this film.

“I also wanted to make a film that was very much about photography,” he adds. “This film uses distortion of time and seeks out connections that are at first glance not there, such as the relationship between the photographer and his subject. Are the two connected somehow from the moment when the artwork, the photography, combines their existence?”

Shot within a period of three years, An Impossibly Small Object comes across as a quiet, lyrical ode to the everyday sights and sounds of Taipei. Immersive camerawork by cinematographer Morgan Knibbe takes the viewer though the corridors of aging residential buildings, sleepy alleyways, a bustling pepper shrimp restaurant along Zhongxiao Donghua (忠孝敦化) and the alluring nightscape of a city that never sleeps. The curious symbol of a life-size Chinese god puppet (神像) also recurs throughout the film.

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