BIFF Film Review: 170Hz

   170Hz is a rather dry title for a rather colourful film which manages to do what I had previously considered unthinkable; Joost van Ginkel’s Dutch feature is almost a precise re-interpretation of how I could imagine the Twilight series appearing if they had been filtered through the works of Kim Ki-Duk (and, in particular 3-Iron).

   The tale begins like many a teenage love story with montages of tender embraces and time spent lovingly together – at this point it’s hard to gage how our young leads are different to any others seen on the big screen in glossy mainstream cinema. Nick boasts rippling abs, drives a motorbike and boasts a magnificently voluminous mane of long blonde hair; he’s the perfect cross between Kurt Cobain and James Dean, a fashion shoot dream. Evy, conversely, with her vest top sassiness and flowing brunette tresses, would more than likely be played by Kristen Stewart were the movie ever to ever be remade in Hollywood. Despite the initial superficial appearances, this seems unlikely.

   Of all the bonds that bind our romantic leads together, aside from the burning intensity of first love, perhaps the most important is their shared condition; they are both deaf-mutes. Members of the swimming team make sure that Nick feels like an outcast, taunting him, and Evy’s dad makes it clear that he thinks his daughter should be with someone else. Nick is told, in no uncertain terms, that Evy is going to seek a cure for her lack of hearing and receive an implant; our young lead nonchalantly replies he’d never get one because he’s yet to meet anyone worth hearing.. with the exception of his girlfriend. It seems, like many a great love story before it, that it’s going to be a case of the couple in love versus the world and, when Evy’s Dad strikes out at her in defiance, the duo believe this to be the case, running away to start a new life together. Sadly, it’s not just the world they’ll be up against but rather their own demons and the impotent rage that arises from their flawed idealism.

   170Hz is, in short, a formal triumph. In terms of visuals and sounds there is absolutely nothing that can be faulted in this slickly produced, expressionist piece of cinema. Even though the lead characters do not speak, the feature is as far removed from silent film as is imaginable. It almost seems like 170Hz’s raison d’etre is to communicate sonically with an incredible score accompanying the piece, soaring and crashing with weightless grace. Much of the audio that emits from the speakers seems to swell rather than be hit percussively and it is this soft ambience which reverberates evocatively, matching perfectly the tone of the movie at any given point; the lush tender love of early scenes cause lilting swoops to rush across the sonic field whereas as tension builds, urgency finds its way onto the soundtrack .

   Where the movie falls apart, however, is after the initial beautifully crafted scenes, which set the tone for the movie and introduce us to this incredible new world where communication is entirely different than we had previously understood it to be. Once the sonic premise has been set up and the love story established the film sadly finds itself in a story telling cul-de-sac when Nick and Evy run away; there is little for them to do, and little purpose for them to do so, rendering the latter portion of the film much less interesting than the heart-stopping, breathless excitement of the first.

   At no point, however, does 170Hz stop being a delight to observe and listen to due it’s incredibly conceived composition, but rather it becomes increasingly hard to engage with, or feel for, Nick or Evy. This leads to the odd situation where, watching the film, I found myself equally engrossed and detached, astonished by the technical bravura, underwhelmed by the plotting. If all films looked and sounded this good on the big screen, movie piracy would decrease immediately. However, if all films took the meandering narrative path of the third act in this movie, piracy would decrease exponentially for entirely different reasons. Yet, despite this, I'd recommend 170Hz in the beat of a heart - it's a peculiar, twisted and worth watching simply for it's technical brilliance.

* This film received it's UK Premier at Bradford International Film Festival

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