Fantasia Online Film Festival review: The Columnist
Katja Herbers an adorable psychopath9
Freedom of speech8
Comedy so dark8
Anton Bitel | On 21, Aug 2020
Director: Ivo van Aart
Cast: Katja Herbers, Bram van der Kelen, Claire Porro, Harry van Rijthoven
Watch The Columnist online in the UK: TBC
With Shudder snapping up several films at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, we check out some of the movies streaming at the online Canadian event.
Ivo van Aart’s The Columnist begins with a TV debate, in a studio, in front of a live audience and cameras. The topic is “Twitter, a curse or a blessing?” and divorced mother, feminist and newspaper columnist Femke Boot (Katja Herbers) is there to make the case for curse, and to plead with viewers to “just have different opinions and be nice about it”. It is a personal issue for Femke, who finds herself subjected to all the endless abuse, trolling, rape fantasies and death threats that are typically directed at prominent women. The format of the show is adversarial, and Femke’s interlocutor – the extreme crime fiction author “Steven Death” (Bram van der Kelen) – is more experienced at playing the media game, and politely undermines Femke with humour. There is very little constructive argument, but Steven does, unlike Femke, manage to promote his latest book.
In fact, the debate continues throughout The Columnist, repeatedly resumed by Femke and Steven after they become a couple, and in a different way by Femke’s teenaged daughter Anna (Claire Porro), who is conducting a determined if cordial campaign against her school’s censorious headmaster (Harry van Rijthoven) – a campaign in which she keeps using offensive language (and insulting the Netherlands’ royal family) to illustrate freedom of speech. A not dissimilar dialectic about what can and cannot be said is discernible in the different ways that the film presents itself to different audiences: the original Dutch title of The Columnist is the altogether less refined designation “De Kuthoer”, or “the pussy whore”.
Words may never hurt you, but of late Femke has secretly taken to tracking down her online persecutors, murdering them, and cutting off one of their digits as a souvenir (earning her the nickname “the middle finger killer”) – an activity that becomes a vengeful compulsion (and eliminates her writer’s block), even if it is also transforming her into the kind of violent psychopath, not at all “nice about it”, that she claims to abhor.
Like any conversation on social media, The Columnist turns on a dime from comedy to romance to horror, and from warmth to cynicism to aggression – and if Femke, with whom viewers are aligned from the start, becomes ever more repellent in her ideas and actions as the story progresses, don’t worry: it’s just a joke and it’s only a movie, so no harm done, right?
The Columnist streams as part of FrightFest 2020 at 12pm on Saturday 29th August. For the full schedule and how to get tickets, click here.