Groenendaal’s film is autobiographical – an account of the sexual abuse she suffered in the Dutch Bible Belt village of her youth more than 40 years ago. But her approach to the story’s telling is far from narrative; instead she turns to lyricism and metaphor to describe a trauma that she feels cannot be expressed in words.
“I was driving through the countryside where I grew up and there were ghost movies screaming out of the quagmire of this Dutch river landscape”, she explains. But those memories were exactly that – ghostly and rendered abstract by the passage of time. Therefore, in order to portray her initial arrival as a seven year-old stranger into her adopted village, Groenendaal returns with a cast of ‘strangers’ who explore aspects of the director’s past, under the bemused gaze of the contemporary villagers.
One couple dances an elaborate tango before tumbling into an erotic and exhausted clinch, all performed before the village children. A pre-pubescent child stands silently as a village farmer jokes about the people he knows who have had sex with farm animals. “When I remember my neighbour who was fucking his cow, I went there with this performer/dancer who was totally ready to try it – but we never got there”, Groenendaal explains. “It is very difficult to film what really happened, and actually that is the problem. The images of absence are, I think, very present in the movie. It is very hard to film things that you cannot even talk about. These are taboo memories on misuse.”
The latter parts of Groenendaal’s experimental film introduce us to a vital and ‘lusty’ nature populated by women who draw comfort from their landscape. We see a naked woman who rides a pig in order to recreate the Hieronymus Bosch tableau from his painting Paradise, while a white witch trains her white owl to swoop in the woods. Meanwhile, a Korean woman screams her pain to the non-judgmental trees and birds. It is, argues Groenendaal, a countryside in which ‘fucking’ happens continually, but when removed from the “male gaze” of the Christian fundamentalist, this fucking is pure and vital, rather than sinful and secretive.