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Hopeful? Or slick, safe and sentimental?

Hopeful? Or slick, safe and sentimental?

Film in the Time of Corona: part 7

The plans to reopen were at the ready, but Dutch cinemas will remain closed till June 1. And anyone casting a glance at the release list for the coming months, will see that film distributers also don’t expect cinemas to be up and running fully any time soon. Although there are a number of premieres planned from the beginning of June, most of them are minor films of which the distributors don’t expect much as far as audience numbers are concerned. Large productions have been cancelled until autumn, with one remarkable exception. Warner Brothers is still set on 16 July being the release date for this summer’s blockbuster: Tenet by Christopher Nolan (The Dark KnightDunkirkInception). I am very curious.

Until we are allowed to go to the cinema, Observant has been taking a closer look at one video on demand (VOD) provider each week. After Picl, Film 1, MUBI, Netflix, Pathé Thuis and Disney+, this week it is time for a smaller player on the market: Cinetree.

What is Cinetree? 

It was the Dutch actress Hanna Verboom who set up the platform in 2014. In an interview with VPRO, Verboom explained her intentions: “If Netflix is a department store, then Cinetree is a boutique.” The platform offers a selection of 15 to 20 somewhat older art house films, selected and sometimes introduced by famous Dutch people. Examples are programme maker Jelle Brandt Corstius, actress Katja Schuurman, rapper Pepijn Lanen, entrepreneur Nalden, actor Jeroen van Koningsbrugge, journalist Joris Luyendijk, artist Daan Roosegaarde, and writer Adriaan van Dis.

How does it work?

Cinetree has a subscription model: for 7.99 euro per month, you have access to approximately fifteen films, which are transferred to a video shop after seventy days. It is also possible to rent films individually from the video shop (for 2.99-4.99 euro per film); subscribers receive a reduction on rates.

What have they got to offer?

The selection at the moment (first week of May 2020) has been inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic and consists of a selection of ‘hopeful’ films. Don’t get your hopes up, for all those who enter, were my thoughts when I looked at the selection, because it consists mainly of films that broadcast their hopeful message with little subtlety. Roberto Benigni’s sentimental Holocaust fantasy La Vita è Bella is a good example, but various other films selected by the ‘curators’ (LionLife, Animated) are sufficiently slick, safe and not adverse to theatrics either. One could take a more positive approach and use terms such as ‘inspiring’, ‘heart-warming’ and ‘feel-good’, but then the question remains just how many feel-good films anyone can bear in one month. In addition to the aforementioned films, there are those by renowned film authors such as Roy Andersson, Michael Haneke and Pedro Almodóvar, which raises the question who exactly is the target group for this VOD service.

Apart from the films you can watch within your subscription, there is also a video shop. Plenty of fine things to be found there, although the classification is rather random. The category ‘Big Winners’, for example, contains the Dutch film Het Echte Leven (2008). Apparently, the Dutch prize ‘Gouden Kalf’ for best editing and camera work is sufficient to allow you to be included in the ‘big winners’. Another peculiar category is ‘For Film Enthusiasts’, where you can find a mere five films, including La Vita è Bella, which is loathed by many film enthusiasts. In the category ‘Female Directors’, you can find a French film selected by fashion blogger Anna Nooshin, Populaire, directed by Régis Roinsard. That is a man, is he not. In the category ‘The Eye Collection’ I had hoped to find reconditioned classic films, but this only consists of seven films by Alex van Warmerdam. 

Judgement of Solomon

Cinetree’s target audience is completely unclear. On the film website Moviemeter’s forum, someone suggests that the target group consists of art house fans who have spent the last couple of years in prison. That is not only funny, but also spot on, because most of the art house titles are a few years old. It is not transparent when new titles appear and subscribers have to wait and see what their money gets them. Founder Hanna Verboom speaks of a ‘boutique’, but roughly half of the current selection can also be found at Pathé Thuis. The ‘introductions’ by the curators are mostly uninteresting, unless you feel the need for the gratuitous opinion of actress Olivia Lonsdale on The Florida Project (“they are all super great actors” “I felt that the mother played a very strong role… she really does a good job”). You also don’t get the feeling that there is a careful selection process; it seems more like a catalogue of films that were raked together because the rights were affordable. All in all, Cinetree is a sympathetic, but very mediocrely put-together initiative.

Top 3 hopeful films

1. Taxi Teheran – Jafar Panahi

In the elegant Taxi Teheran, director Jafar Panahi, as a taxi driver, speaks candidly with his passengers about daily life in Iran. A hopeful film because Panahi – who was placed under house arrest and banned from his profession – still manages to create films. It brings optimism to this present crisis: the arts sector will find a way again to flourish.

2. The Lunchbox – Ritesh Batra 

Indian actor Irrfan Khan recently died. One of his most famous films in the West is this heart-warming (and this film truly deserves that adjective) romantic film about a housewife in Mumbai who wants to use her cooking skills to put more oomph into her loveless marriage. But the lunchbox that she prepared for her husband, is mistakenly delivered to a lonely office employee.

3. C’est ça l’amour – Claire Burger

The most inspired choice from the present Cinetree selection for subscribers: an endearing French film about a man who does not know what to do with his two teenage daughters and by participating in a theatre project tries to win his wife back. A film about losing control and taking it back; exactly the kind of challenge that society is facing in May 2020. 

Mark Vluggen

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