TIFF Review: 'Retrospekt' Muddles Its Domestic Abuse Narrative Directed by Esther Rots

Starring Nele Hardiman, Teun Luijkx, Circé Lethem
TIFF Review: 'Retrospekt' Muddles Its Domestic Abuse Narrative Directed by Esther Rots
Nonlinear narrative dramas have tricky goals to achieve. Aside from making sure all the puzzle pieces fit, it's also critical that the audience will care enough to put the pieces together. Retrospekt, Dutch director Esther Rots' second feature, assumes viewers will pay so much attention to the chronology they won't notice there's no payoff.
Mette (Circé Lethem), a domestic violence support worker pregnant with her second child, sees a man hit his wife in a retail change room one day. Frustrated that she can't do more to help, Mette complains to her husband Simon (Martijn van der Veen), who urges her to not get involved.
From there, the story jumps back and forth to Mette's life pre- and post-pregnancy, as well as an unspecified period in which Mette was seriously injured and undergoing physical rehabilitation. At some point before Mette's mysterious accident, she also invites one of her clients, Lee (Lien Wildemeersch), to live with her in order to escape her abusive partner. But all signs indicate that Lee's partner is none too happy with this, and Lee herself is an elusive, untrustworthy figure.
There aren't many clues to indicate why the story is arranged in this way at all, only the implication that some fractured idea taking shape in Mette's mind is the key to unravelling the plot. Lethem's performance is powerful and affecting, by far the one bright star in the film's narrative clutter. Her intensity and vulnerability tells the story of a woman slowly becoming undone by the stresses of her family and her job much more succinctly than the narrative structure does.
There's not much here by way of payoff beyond watching Lethem's magnetic performance for 101 minutes, making the task of deciphering the chronology needlessly frustrating. It feels forced and unnecessary, much like the operatic songs with heavy-handed English lyrics that interrupt the film with their weird tonal shift.
(Serendipity Films)