Belgian director Bas Devos has built a reputation for crafting introspective films centered on solitary figures wandering through dreamlike cityscapes. His latest offering, Here, continues this meditation on the quiet beauty hidden in plain sight all around us. Through the story of Stefan, a dissatisfied Romanian migrant worker in Brussels, Devos extends a gentle invitation to view familiar surroundings through new eyes.
As summer nears, Stefan makes the impulsive decision to return home to Romania, unsure if he’ll ever come back to his construction job in Brussels. Before leaving, he cooks a vegetable soup with leftovers in his fridge to share with acquaintances as impromptu parting gifts. This kicks off a series of bittersweet encounters as Stefan rambles across the city, crossing paths with his drained hospital nurse sister, longtime family friends working as mechanics, and other tangential connections from his daily routine.
Along the way, chance leads Stefan to a young Chinese-Belgian doctoral student named Shuxiu who studies the resilient mosses blanketing the Brussels forests. As she initiates Stefan into the overlooked “micro-forests” thriving underfoot, he discovers momentary wonder amidst his listlessness.
Through patient shots of glinting raindrops on leaves and other textures often passed by unnoticed, Devos extends a similar invitation to moviegoers – to pause and appreciate the present. Here unfolds through a series of transient moments as Stefan says goodbye without certainty of return, evoking the wistfulness of how even routine spaces can become imbued with new meaning when we stand on the cusp of change.
Painterly Compositions Find Beauty in the Mundane
Cinematographer Grimm Vandekerckhove lenses Here using an unconventional 4:3 aspect ratio that evokes the feeling of flipping through old Polaroids. This square framing draws focus to Devos’ elegant composition within each shot, finding grace notes amidst Stefan’s routine urban environments. As Stefan wanders winding Brussels streets and wooded outskirts, Vandekerckhove lingers on glinting shop windows, weathered brick architecture, the dancing shadows of tree leaves. Through subtle plays of light, he transforms Stefan’s functional construction sites and mechanic garages into hushed spaces of luminous beauty.
Vandekerckhove further elevates the everyday by highlighting sensuous colors and textures. When Stefan shelters under eaves during a summer rain shower, we’re treated to lingering studies of water droplets trembling on metal and leaves. In a technique reminiscent of Slow Cinema, Devos allows natural soundscapes to wash over us, drawing us into Stefan’s contemplative headspace.
The chirping birds, rustling leaves, and buzzing insects serve as a synesthetic bridge to the scenes of Shuxiu introducing Stefan to the Brussels forest’s lesser known residents: resilient green mosses blanketing tree trunks and stones. Awash in the shades of emeralds and jade, Devos transports us, as if peering through Shuxiu’s microscope to discover intricate micro-patterns – finding the exotic within the familiar.
Through Vandekerckhove’s patient eye and saturated colors, Here transforms unmowed grass along train tracks, peeling paint on a garage sign, moss-swaddled tree stumps into subjects as worthy of study as museums masterworks. As with his previous collaborations with Devos, Vandekerckhove invites viewers to pause and appreciate the present moment rather than hurry past in search of something more spectacular. Much like Stefan’s impulse in gifting homemade soup to relative strangers, Here offers transient beauty amassed from the humble materials already at hand.
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An Impromptu Farewell Tour Through Brussels
At the start of his month-long summer holiday, Stefan makes an impulsive decision to return to his hometown in Romania – unsure if he’ll come back to his construction job in Brussels. Rather than a straightforward departure, what unfolds is an impromptu farewell tour as Stefan wanders the city, crossing paths with various people from his life.
In the days leading up to his drive back home, Stefan channels his directionless restlessness into an act of caretaking – making a vegetable soup to portion out into tupperwares as an impromptu parting gift. As he travels by foot across Brussels, dropping off containers with his strained nurse sister, longtime family friends, and other loose connections, poignant exchanges reveal a quiet dissatisfaction simmering within his generally amiable demeanor.
There’s a sense Stefan is taking stock of his time in Brussels when sharing a bowl of soup with Cedric, a young dad and hotel clerk. Over dinner with sister Anca during her exhausting night shift, underlying tensions poke through their good-natured humor about Stefan’s insomnia and uncertainty over not yet having “a family of his own.” Yet the most piercing conversation happens once his temperamental car breakdown lengthens his stay.
Waiting on repairs, Stefan shares an impromptu outdoor lunch with older Romanian mechanic Mihai, who movingly outlines his needle phobia and the surreal sensation of losing time, feeling your heart stop during major surgery. Through Stefan, Devos compassionately channels how even everyday phrases can completely transform when you’re ready to hear them.
Amongst all the bittersweet farewells, Stefan’s chance second meeting with Shuxiu offers a respite, as the curious doctoral student draws him into the forest to share her passion for cataloging hardy mosses. Enchanted by this hidden dimension thriving underfoot, Stefan seems to reconnect to a sense of wonder within himself as well.
Like adding seasoning to a simple soup, Shuxiu’s enthusiasm transforms how Stefan views his surroundings – eyes opened to beauties previously overlooked. As critic Guy Lodge observes, while farewells fuel the plot, Devos also evokes “the wistfulness of how even routine spaces can become imbued with new meaning when we stand on the cusp of change.”
An Ode to Life’s Overlooked Gifts
True to director Bas Devos’ style, Here unfolds slowly yet with cumulative power, exploring subtle themes through Stefan’s farewell meanderings rather than overt plot points. As critic Guy Lodge summarizes, at its heart, Here is “a reflection on the small joys we choose to miss.”
The film elegantly interweaves motifs highlighting the interconnectedness between humankind and the natural world we move through. Just as mosses blanket the forest, so too do construction cranes and scaffolding now populate Brussels’ skyline. Yet pockets of tall grass push through cracks in the pavement – each environment transforming the other. The urban and the wild, the modern and the ancient co-exist in a reciprocal dance.
Through lingering studies of glistening raindrops and buzzing bees that transition seamlessly into Stefan’s city wanderings, Devos blurs any hard lines separating nature from culture. Stefan gifts homemade soup – distilled from vegetables grown from soil; he forges brief but resonant human connections across generations and backgrounds. Much like the mosses persisting through Brussels’ long history of revolving inhabitants, Devos gently suggests our human lives flow from and back into the land itself.
By having the curious Shuxiu initiate Stefan into the unnoticed dimensions around him, Devos celebrates knowledge and experience as pathways to meaning. Like adding seasoning to soup, Shuxiu’s enthusiasm reshapes Stefan’s viewpoint, opening his eyes to subtleties long missed. Here and elsewhere, Devos uplifts small yet profound offering gestures – whether sharing soup, time together, or fresh perspective.
Through Stefan’s farewell tour, Here reminds audiences that while we quest for self-knowledge, purpose, and human connection, the answers often arise unexpectedly from what’s already close at hand. We need only pause long enough to notice life’s overlooked gifts scattered all around us.
An Invitation to Rediscover Awe in the Familiar
In an era dominated by fast-paced blockbusters, Bas Devos’ hushed and meditative Here offers a refreshingly different cinematic encounter. Without traditional plot mechanics, Here relies on its cumulative emotional power to immerse audiences in Stefan’s pre-departure wanderings. Through composed visuals transforming mundane cityscapes into sensuous art, Devos reawakens awe for forgotten corners all around us.
While largely slow-paced, with wandering narrative and transient encounters, Here completely immerses us in the melancholy beauty of thresholds – those in-between spaces brimming with possibility. Devos transports viewers into liminal moments that glow with poignancy in Stefan’s life as he prepares to leave Brussels without certainty of return. Here is a quiet love letter to the grace notes woven through our everyday routines once we pause to appreciate them.
In inviting audiences to perceive the wonder pulsing through overlooked details all around Stefan, Devos extends a wider invitation to moviegoers to pause and rediscover meaning in our own familiar terrain. As we witness through Stefan’s transformation, when we learn to admire rather than adapt to our environments, our viewpoint shifts. Through this expanded vision, Here gently suggests, we rediscover awe and connection long hidden in plain sight. Like a parting gift of soup prepared from what’s already at hand, Devos distills wonder from the known world when viewed anew.
Like a restorative exhale, Here washes over audiences like a cool breeze, leaving us refreshed and alive to the unnoticed beauty always underfoot. Through hushed tones and luminous imagery in unlikely places, Devos reawakens childlike awe for the world. I give this meditative ode to life’s overlooked gifts 9 out of 10 stars.
- Gorgeous cinematography that makes mundane environments poetic
- Nuanced exploration of themes like wonder, connection, appreciation
- Strong lead performance by Stefan Gota
- Immersive sound design and subtitles capture sensory details
- Contemplative pace invites viewers to reflect along with the protagonist
- Slow pace requires patience from audiences
- Plot feels aimless or thin at times
- Some characters like Shuxiu could be better developed
- Unconventional style won't appeal to all mainstream tastes