Here review – romantic connection in the forest in gentle and beguiling drama

Estimated read time 2 min read

Belgian director Bas Devos’s gentle, delicate and quietly beguiling movie, a prize winner last year in Berlin, is about love and fate. It crept up on me at its own measured walking pace – and it incidentally has the best and cleverest last line of any film I have seen this year.

Stefan (Stefan Gota) is a Romanian construction worker in Brussels who is preparing to go back home for a summer holiday, but isn’t at all sure how long he’ll stay or if he’ll ever come back. He wanders around handing out plastic containers of his homemade soup as farewell gifts to the friends he’s made around the place. Meanwhile, Shuxiu is a Chinese grad student in bryology working on a doctoral thesis on mosses and working part-time in her aunt’s takeaway restaurant (she is played by Liyo Gong, an actor and editor who worked on Youth, Wang Bing’s epic documentary about transient workers in the Zhejiang province).

After various casual conversations, which perhaps show a mysterious reluctance to leave that he can hardly understand, Stefan happens to show up in Shuxiu’s restaurant and the rain compels him to stay indoors, eat the food there and make conversation with her. Then, when he’s walking through the forest on his way to pick up his car, he serendipitously encounters Shuxiu again as she is scrutinising mosses through her microscope; she asks if he would like to look at them too. There is a spark, which doesn’t need a romcom-style emphasis, and the nearest we get to that is some good-natured eyebrow-raising from Shuxiu’s aunt when it later emerges that Stefan has dropped off some of his soup for Shuxiu at the restaurant.

There is something magical and microscopically detailed in the couple’s forest walk: we hear the woodland noises and when a train speeds past in unnatural silence, Devos allows us to realise that he has artificially created this soundtrack – Stefan’s internal daze of possibility, perhaps. As for Shuxiu, we see a lot of her academic life, which includes teaching a class of students; one of the assignments she gives them is a rather Borgesian task of inventing an imaginary plant. Do Belgian students in natural sciences have to do this? If not, they should. A little gem.


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