Saskia Diesing on her film Dorst

Dutch filmmaker Saskia Diesing finally returns to IFFR for the world premiere of her second feature film Dorst, a tragicomic portrait of an estranged mother and daughter.

Some things are worth the wait. Sixteen years after her debut film short Du, Dutch filmmaker and teacher Saskia Diesing (1972) will return to Rotterdam for her latest feature film Dorst, which will also have its world premiere at the festival. “It’s really great to be back”, says Diesing, who cherishes some great memories of the festival from her time as a film student. “My first great film experiences were here at the festival. This is where I saw my first Hal Hartley movie, Simple Men, which completely blew me away. It has since become one of my favourite films, and I still watch it regularly, as part of my students’ curriculum at the HKU University of the Arts in Utrecht.”

Diesing’s own work may best be described by what one of her producers once called ‘lyrical realism’. “It’s a common term used in painting, although I’m not really sure if it’s a term that exists in film. It is true that I’m not really that interested in making social realist drama. I want there to be some stylisation, without it becoming too over-the-top. More like the realism of Hal Hartley and Alexander Payne than Wes Anderson.”

We both tend to go looking for the absurd, the comic and the tragic in our day-to-day world.” – Saskia Diesing

In writer Esther Gerritsen Diesing found a real soulmate. Gerritsen helped write her script for her first feature film, Nena, in 2014. “From the get-go, we had really great chemistry. We share some of the same idiosyncrasies. We both tend to go looking for the absurd, the comic and the tragic in our day-to-day world.”

All of these elements come together in Dorst, based on the eponymous book by Gerritsen (translated in English as Craving). It’s a tragicomic portrait of an estranged mother (Elisabeth) and daughter (Coco), who, after the mother gets diagnosed with a terminal illness, suddenly find themselves in each other’s orbit once again. “One of the things that impressed me the most in the book is that I was able to empathise with both characters, but both in very different ways. The hyper rational Elisabeth appeals to the head, while the impulsive Coco goes straight for the gut. That also became my greatest challenge: to see how this could be translated to film.”

One of Diesing’s solutions: having Elisabeth speak directly to the camera. “Coco is a woman of action. Her actions reveal her motivations. For Elisabeth, who probably suffers from some form of Autism Spectrum Disorder, it’s the complete opposite. If you judge her only by her actions, she appears to be a cold woman, but there are rational thought processes hidden behind every move. But those are hard to show, if you don’t spell them out. In addition, it finally gave me the chance to break the fourth wall in film, something I have been longing to do for some time.”

  • Still: Dorst

  • Still: Dorst

The part of Elisabeth is being played by renowned Dutch musical star Simone Kleinsma, her first leading role in a film. “One of our producers suggested her to us, and Esther and I couldn’t wait to get her on board. While casting, I like to look further than the usual suspects. I also think the potential of comic performers is sadly underrated. Look, for instance, at the brilliance of Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Bill Murray in Lost in Translation.”

As Elisabeth, Kleinsma is a perfect fit. “She just has such great features! I could easily look at her face and those startling blue eyes all day long. She has a hardness and a vulnerability to her at the same time. On top of all that, she’s a brilliant comedian, with great comedic timing.”

Kleinsma finds a great sparring-partner in Elise van ‘t Laar, who had her breakthrough in 2014 with the small indie film Tussen 10 en 12 (programmed at IFFR 2015). “Elise just goes all-in as Coco. She dives in, head-first”, says Diesing. “There’s a bravery in her acting that’s very rare. She’s also a very hard, very disciplined worker. I’m really chuffed with these two great, intelligent actresses!”

  • Cast and crew of Dorst at IFFR 2018

    Cast and crew of Dorst at IFFR 2018

  • Cast and crew of Dorst at IFFR 2018

    Cast and crew of Dorst at IFFR 2018

Photo in header: Photo: Saskia Diesing | Interview: Bregtje Schudel