Hemel (2012)

Director: Sacha Polak
Writer: Helena van der Meulen
Cast: Hannah Hoekstra, Hans Dagelet, Rifka Lodeizen, Mark Rietman, Eva Duijvestein, Barbara Sarafian
Seen on: 29.8.2021

Content Note: rape

Hemel (Hannha Hoekstra) is young and beautiful and drifts from man to man, hook-up to hook-up. Never anything serious. The only man she has emotional space for in her life is her father Gijs (Hans Dagelet) who has never settled down himself – until now. Gijs seems to have finally found a partner in Sophie (Rifka Lodeizen) with whom he is willing to get serious – and that completely throws Hemel.

Hemel is yet another film about a beautiful, young and fucked up woman who struggles with relationships with men in her life. I have to admit that I expected a little more from it – a little more insight, a little more feminism – but it couldn’t deliver.

The film poster showing Hemel (Hannah Hoekstra) making out with a guy while wrapped in a string of lights.

On the face of it, Hemel tells the story of a woman who owns her sexuality and who takes what she wants. But her desire, her rejection of heteronormative ideas of relationships and her feminist rhetoric are soon shown as a rather brittle facade behind which is a hurt, insecure woman who is not so much unwilling as unable to have a “normal” relationship with a man. Plus, she is punished for her promiscuity by being raped by one of her “conquests”. “It was to be expected,” the film seems to shrug, “sleeping around like she does.” And that completely undermines any feminist stance the film may have taken.

So we get a scene where Hemel first tells a lover that she finds it weird to shave her vulva, a fetishizing virginity and prepubescent bodes, and then we see her give in to his demands and let him shave her. That scene is right at the beginning of the film and rather emblematic, I thought, of the film’s entire problem.

Hemel (Hannah Hoekstra) in bed with Douwe (Mark Rietman).

Hoekstra really is stunning, in the very traditional thin-young-white sense of beauty, and the camera is very busy with showing us her body. I am not sure why, though, if not for the sake of voyeurism. Often, nudity is used to show vulnerability, but Hemel is never more vulnerable than when she walks away from the apartment after she was raped, fully dressed, and you can see Hoekstra slowly put her armor back on. By the time she tells someone about it, her story isn’t that she was raped, but that she has an intense, but consensual BDSM experience. It’s arguably the strongest moment in the film overall.

It’s not that Hemel is an outright bad film. But it is a little flat with the characterization of Hemel, a little predictable, like a psych 101 interpretation more than a real understanding. And that lack of depth radiates outwards to weaken a film that showed more promise than what it delivered.

Hemel (Hannah Hoekstra) standing in the rain.

Summarizing: oh well.

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