The Dutch movie “Moonlight” follows a young girl name Claire (Laurien Van den Broeck), an isolated girl who, as we first see her, has just gotten her period. Claire lives with her wealthy adopted parents in a luxurious house in the woods, near an omnipresent airport; the home’s location is a source of angst for all, and the psychiatrist father has already made arrangements to move the family back to the city.
On the same day Claire gets her period, she discovers a young foreign boy hiding in the shed. The boy has been shot by drug dealers who had used him as a mule to carry drugs into the country. Now that they no longer have any use for him, the drug dealers shoot the boy twice, but he survives despite the odds. Instead of informing her parents, the oddball Claire decides to take care of the boy’s wounds herself; then, at the eve of the family moving, Claire runs away with the boy, even as the drug dealers circle the area looking for them.
“Moonlight” gives the impression of being a crime thriller in its first few minutes, but quickly turns into an adolescent story about Claire’s inability to come to terms with her life and her past as an abandoned child. Despite the love of her new family, Claire is unable to forget how she came into the world. The appearance of the boy (who is never given a name) is a reminder to Claire, who promptly takes charge of the situation and treats the boy more like a child rather than an equal. Oh, and the maturing Claire also takes the opportunity to use the boy to experiment her newly discovered sexuality.
Director Paula van der Oest shoots the first half of “Moonlight” with an eye toward achieving a sense of stark reality, but the second half degrades into a listless juvenile fantasy as Claire and the boy flee into the adult world, but free of adult responsibilities. By the time the drug dealers re-enter the picture, “Moonlight” has already left behind its crime roots, and there’s no way to get it back. Like another foreign export called “Heaven”, much of “Moonlight” feels like an impossibly quiet and understated dream. The words mundane and beyond the realm of credibility also comes to mind.
The acting by lead Laurien Van den Broeck is superb. The young woman (who can’t be more than 13) gives a very effective and naturalistic performance as the awkward Claire. We’re never quite sure what’s going on inside her head or behind her serious eyes; as a result, every action she does (and doesn’t do) is unexpected. Hunter Bussemaker, as the boy, was only reliable for being timid and uninvolving. Bussemaker’s wide-eyed foreign kid in a foreign land act works for a little while, but quickly loses its charm. The adults in the movie, for the most part, are nameless and faceless characters that wander in and out of the kids’ lives. They are incidental to the story screenwriter Carel Donck and director Oest really wants to tell. This is unfortunate because I found the crime story to be much more interesting than Claire’s gradual awakening and her leap to adulthood.
Then again, I’m not sure if you can call what Claire does as a “leap to adulthood”, since she does everything anyone with common sense (re: adult-like thinking) wouldn’t do. And am I really supposed to believe that a 13-year old girl can fix two gunshot wounds, especially when one of them is a gut shot? As we all know, no one survives a gut shot; it’s painful, slow, and always permanent. Once Claire and the boy escapes into the city, they become drug addicts, addicted to the same drug the boy was ferrying into the country. Again, am I supposed to believe that a 13-year old girl who has always lived a secluded life knows a lot about cocaine, including the proper ways to use it in order to achieve the best effect?
If you were looking for a “coming of age” story, most of “Moonlight” will appeal to you, even if much of the scenarios aren’t exactly believable. On the other hand, if you came into “Moonlight” expecting a crime thriller (as I did), then you will be disappointed. The movie’s crime aspects quickly give way to storylines better left to TV movie-of-the-week territory. Also, don’t let the movie’s poster fool you. There’s almost no tension in “Moonlight”, and even less excitement. This is a slow and ponderous story about a girl supposedly growing up and coming to terms with her true nature. Everything else is handled in a sideline fashion, including a couple of nice spurts of suspense that, unfortunately, was much too short.
FYI: Despite being Dutch, most of the movie is in English. This is not due to dubbing, but rather because the movie was originally shot in English.
Paula van der Oest (director) / Carel Donck (screenplay)
CAST: Laurien Van den Broeck …. Claire
Hunter Bussemaker …. Boy
Andrew Howard …. Curt
Johan Leysen …. Father
Jemma Redgrave …. Mother