I was surprised yesterday when I heard that the Dutch film Regret! won the TIFF Kids Audience Choice Award for Best Feature Film. I saw Regret! on the first weekend of TIFF Kids 2014, and it immediately became the first film I would name when people asked if I'd seen anything good. It's an incredibly well-made movie about bullying gone too far, with a nicely balanced script (adapted from a novel) and effortless performances from a cast of talented young actors.
David (Robin Boissevain) knows it isn't right that his mild and out-of-shape classmate Jochem (Stefan Collier) is the constant target of pranks and ridicule. But Sanne (Charlotte Bakker) and her small group of followers are unrelenting, even when David makes feeble attempts to intervene. David's crush Vera (Dorus Witte) does a better job of standing up for Jochem, but she becomes a target because of her friendship.
With no help coming from a teacher (Dave Mantel) who seems more interested in keeping the cool kids happy and from parents who don't understand the severity of the situation, David and Vera struggle with how deeply to get involved, while Jochem desperately grasps at the lifelines offered by his cautious new friends and his rescue dog.
Spoiler alert: Jochem's story does not end well. Hours and even days after I saw Regret! I found myself thinking about the film, running what-if scenarios about how things could have worked out differently, as though the events and characters were real. I also found myself thinking back to my own youth, to people who were real, and wishing I knew then what I know now.
In the Q&A after the screening I saw, director David Schram spoke about how they weren't trying to make a movie that pointed fingers; rather they were trying to show how factors can combine to lead to tragedy. This is something that the movie does exceptionally well. There's more to the teacher, more to the bullies, more to David's failings and more to Jochem than an outsider would see, but this film gives you just enough of all of their stories to show multiple perspectives without losing focus.
So why was I surprised that Regret! won? It's not an easy film to watch, and the screening I attended was in the smallest of the TIFF Bell Lightbox's five screening rooms. There weren't nearly as many people in attendance as the movie deserved. I don't know how the Audience Choice is award is usually calculated at film festivals, but now I suspect it's based on the percentage of people who choose to vote for a film when they exit a screening, rather than the total number of votes received. Of course, it's possible the other screenings of Regret! were much busier, and I hope they were.
The overall feeling I had when the movie was over was that everyone should see it, especially young people. I heard that sentiment echoed in the Q&A, and in conversations after the screening.
So I am very happy that it won, giving Toronto audiences another chance.
One More Screening of "Regret!"
Because it won the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature Film, "Regret!" is getting an additional screening tomorrow:
- Monday April 21, 12:30 p.m.
Regret! is presented in Dutch with English subtitles. TIFF's recommended ages for the film are 12-13 and advises that it is not suitable for audiences under the age of 11. I would say that while going younger is questionable, the film should definitely speak to those older than 13. So, I'm gonna say 11+, with a special note that all parents and educators should see this film, whether or not they attend with young people.
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