BEN X: DVD
Ben (Greg Timmermans) is different. He never speaks, except to his divorced mother (Marijke Pinoy) and to his little brother (Cesar De Sutter). He gets high grades but is viewed as a freak by his schoolmates and bullied mercilessly. His only solace is the time he spends immersed in the fantasy world of his favourite online computer game Archlord, where he can be the fearless hero, empowered and adventurous, slaying enemies all around him where he is everything that the teenage Ben is not and as the bullying escalates, Ben starts to plot his revenge. Then Scarlite (Laura Verlinden), the girl he has met in his online game and the closest thing he has to a friend, appears in the real world to point the way. Together, they concoct the ultimate end-game.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
From the opening moments, as the graphics of the Archlord online game intercut with the world of Dutch teenager Ben (Greg Timmermans), we know we're in for something special. Not only do the images communicate directly to our senses, but debuting filmmaker Nic Balthazar takes every opportunity to create interest and tension in this moving and dramatic tale, inspired by real events. It would be misleading to label the film as being about teenage suicide, partly because that's an incomplete description. It's as much about the failure of a school system that can do nothing to prevent bullying, and about society's absolute failure to protect those who are just marginally outside our surface norms.
Ben was born with a condition akin to Asperger's Sydnrome in the autism prism of syndromes, making him seem different. The problem isn't his, though; it's how his school peers respond to him that is the cause of his ongoing problem, being pilloried and bullied and harassed.
But in the online game, Archlord, he's a warrior to be feared, with many conquests to his credit. It's not so much a fantasy life as an alternative one for Ben; it's [part of his own reality. His online game partner is a feisty heroine, Scarlite (Laura Verlinden) who becomes his only real friend. And when things get too unbearable, she helps Ben formulate an exit plan that has everything he could want.
The handling of teenage suicide themes is a challenge, but Balthazar is up to it. He has had practice at it, having already written a book and a play about Ben X, before adapting it for the screen. Timmermans is completely credible as Ben, a figure who elicits our sympathy, but eventually also earns our respect and a modicum of understanding. Marijke Pinoy is excellent as his put-upon, loving and caring mother, and the supports, including the two most beastly bullies, are also top notch.
The film is superbly written and directed, hitting exactly the right tone and delivering a hugely satisfying ending. Not surprising that it won the Audience Award at the Montreal Film Festival and was in the official selection at Berlin.
Published September 3, 2009
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BEN X: DVD (M)
CAST: Greg Timmermans, Marijke Pinoy, Cesar De Sutter, Gilles De Schryver, Bravo Smets, Katrien Pierlet, Rebecca Lenaerts, Maarten Claeyssens, Titus De Voogdt, Pol Goossen,
PRODUCER: Burny Bos, Peter Bouckaert, Erwin Provoost, Michiel de Rooij, Sabine Veenendaal
DIRECTOR: Nic Balthazar
SCRIPT: Nic Balthazar (novel by Balthazar)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Lou Berghmans
EDITOR: Philippe Ravoet
MUSIC: Praga Khan
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kurt Loyens
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
PRESENTATION: 16:9; DD
SPECIAL FEATURES: [English subtitles]
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Aztec
DVD RELEASE: July 2009