10 February 2003 | epetrov
Majok must remain far from home in exile, in Tussenland.
Veteran documentarian Eugenie Jansen's remarkable first feature film, Tussenland, has rather arbitrarily been given the English title Sleeping Rough. On the surface, this is a touching tale of an encounter between a young Sudanese refugee in Holland and a lonely old man who finds the boy sleeping in his back yard. But the literal translation of the Dutch title as `intermediate land' or `between country, ' and attention to the director's framing device, provide an even richer, more emotive cinematic experience. Tussenland is framed by the voice-over narration of an African folk tale in which an orphaned boy leaves his grandfather's home and is adopted by the Sun in a far-off place. Majok, too, is an orphan who has left his beloved homeland. He now lives among strangers, yearning ceaselessly for his life in Sudan. Also in this `intermediate land' lives Jakob, an aged, cantankerous widower who has not seen his own son in 20 years. Jakob, veteran of the Dutch colonial wars in Indonesia, still harbors rancor against Holland for the treatment of its soldiers. He, too, lives among strangers in a country to which he feels no connection. Director Jansen, using a carefully paced, quasi-documentary style, skillfully reveals to us the aching, profound emotional isolation of the protagonists, as they wander in seemingly perpetual displacement. Ultimately, Jakob's tentative connection with Majok triggers a move towards reconciliation with his friends, his family, and his past. Majok, however, does not fare as well. The framing narration ends with the Sun allowing only the grieving grandfather to see the lost child once a day as he passes over the sky. Majok, like the lonely child in the tale, must remain far from home in exile, in Tussenland.