Alternating between color and black-and-white, although conjuring the appearance at times that shots provide foreground color and background black and white, Rotterdam Europoort finds Joris Ivens returning (by invitation) to the scene of De brug (1927), but with a world war in between. It is the globe-trotting Dutch documentarian’s version of the legend of the Flying Dutchman, where the ghost ship that cannot return home is envisioned as itself but suggests also Ivens himself. Ivens began shooting this film 37 years—a lifetime—after De brug and continued his wandering to other ports and other places afterwards. He found himself “[w]andering between two worlds, one dead, [t]he other powerless to be born.”
The figure of a lost soul, who is at one point addressed (by an opera singer) as “Captain,” is Ivens’s and, if we are of a certain age, our own surrogate. This elegant, mysterious, mystified man is embroiled in a scattered existence, at least partly caused by the war, the ongoing burden of its memory, and the onslaught of youth who kill time rather than people. The air of intrigue surrounding this figure nudges Ivens’s highly creative advertisement for Rotterdam, “city on the river Maas, city at the edge of Europe—where Europe ends, where Europe begins,” in the direction of Resnais and Robbe-Grillet. “The past is beautiful, but the present is alive”—but alive with commerce and capitalism, leaving Ivens without a country, without a home, doomed to wander like a ghost. Close-ups of logs being mechanically lowered imply the fragility of whatever doesn’t fit into this robust, materialistic world; the color passage immediately follows the black-and-white one of a wedding, where, ironically, the young newlyweds, already fading into a photographic album of the most important day of their lives, appear futureless.
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