Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father may have been obnoxiously assembled, but at least the crudeness of Kurt Kuenne’s documentary counts as a sincere expression of rage. For the chamber drama Stages, which has been giddily referred to by some as Scenes from a Divorce, director Mijke de Jong employs a fractured style to match the personalities of its characters, but this synchronicity isn’t so much heartfelt as it is solipsistic. For the entirety of its running time, the film cuts back and forth between the lives of people caught up in routine—scenes of teenage Isaac (Stijn Koomen) breaking into apartments and scenes of his parents, Roos (Elsiw de Brauw) and Martin (Marcel Musters), chatting, among themselves or with others, about largely insignificant things, but sometimes about the mysterious troubles plaguing their son—without ever calling attention to anything beyond its own hollow aesthetic.
De Jong shoots her characters as if she and her camera were sneaking up on them, glaring at their faces in extreme close-up but mostly letting the backs of other people’s heads obscure the frame. This achieves something of a 3D effect, at least in the sense that you may spend most of film trying to look at Isaac’s shrill parents, played by a bobble-headed de Brauw and chomping-at-the-bit Musters as if they were reading from different scripts, through and around the strands of hair taking up prime real estate in the foreground of the frame. But what does all this harried fuss point to beyond the fact that these people live irritatingly self-involved lives?
Interesting as it is that Isaac is shot more openly than his parents and never shares the same space with them, at least not until the final shot of the film, his scenes invite easy psychoanalysis: Breaking into people’s homes to use their showers, or to hang from their ceilings like a bat, or to play with their children’s toys, he obviously longs for some kind of clean start—a reprieve from the noise of his divorced mother and father’s emotions. In one amusing scene, Roos (de Brauw) yells at Isaac from outside his room, voicing frustration at his isolation, saying that their home isn’t a “shelter for deaf-mute adolescents.” Would that de Jong’s direction had adopted a less redundant tone, one as surprising or spry as Roos’s sarcastic howler—maybe then the film might have felt as if it had emotional range, thus deserving of its title.