Kauwboy, or learning to mourn the impossible
by Aurore Engelen
12/06/2012 - Jojo (Rick Lens) is 10 years old. It’s the age of make-pretend and real fights, of fierce friendships. It’s the end of childhood, this short period that one lives alone, in an interior world where one sometimes receives guests. For Jojo, this guest will be Kauw, a sort of metaphorical double of himself. Kauw is Jojo’s literal incarnation, a bird that fell out of its nest. Jojo takes it in, tends to its wounds, feeds it, educates it, loves it, and even tries to teach it about freedom and independence. Jojo is the jackdaw’s father and mother, the father and mother that he himself is so missing. His mother, a country singer is, he says, off on tour. His father, a night guard, sleeps during the day time and lives at night, taciturn and vaguely inebriated, almost completely out of the picture in Jojo’s life. But we understand quickly that the mother’s departure is most probably a lot more final than Jojo makes himself believe, and that his potentially dangerous father is in fact deeply depressed and doesn’t know how to communicate with his son. Jojo is surrounded by absence, and the film accompanies him on a quest to find friends with whom to share life. The bird will literally take the place of his absent mother, by occupying her sanctuary, her recording studio. Yenthe, a friend from sport, will stand by him and force him to realise that he is mourning. And his father (Loek Peters) will slowly step back into the picture and reaffirm his presence as the story evolves and Jojo starts to mourn. These three characters will help to shatter the denial in which Jojo has enclosed himself, and help him to accept his mother’s death, in pain and serenity.
Boudewijn Koole's Kauwboy [trailer] is a fair, melancholy film about childhood, and a sensitive film about the mourning process. By setting his film in a semi-rural area, between a clearing and a main road, always in backyards, and by hinting at references to the American Dream (the title, country music, flags) Koole gives his story the dimension of a fairy tale, not linked to space or time. Jojo and his father have to work on themselves before they can mourn the person they love. With no social contingencies (Jojo doesn’t go to school -- it’s most probably summer -- just to sport’s class, we never see his father at work, and they are both surprisingly alone), the story focuses on the child’s initiatory journey, his discovery of friendship and his reunion with his father. The film gives off a certain tenderness and a real desire to give time the chance to do its work. Even if certain effects (slow motion, inserting photos, a particular use of music) sometimes interrupt this tranquil progress, that is expected but leads to saving liberation, by the end of the journey Jojo is nevertheless moved and reassured as to humans’ capacity for resilience.
Kauwboy is a first feature by Boudewijn Koole, who has previously produced and directed numerous audiovisual projects on themes linked to childhood. The film was screened in the Generation Kplus section at the last Berlinale, where it won Best First Film and the international jury’s Grand Prize. Produced by Waterland Films (Zieleman by Ben Sombogaart, Stella’s War b Diederick van Rooijen, and Bullhead [trailer, film focus] by Michael Roskam), Kauwboy was released last April in the Netherlands by Benelux Film Distributors, and is sold internationally by Delphis Film. It is to be distributed in Belgium by Jekino.
(Translated from French)