A Man And A Camera


Reviewed by: Matthew Anderson

A Man And A Camera
"As ingeniously simple as it is unnerving"

“What is the meaning of this?” asks a disgruntled man, rake in hand, as a silent Guido Hendrikx, camera on shoulder, observes the pensioner tending to his front lawn. It’s a simple enough question, but one that has no easy answers, or indeed any answer at all, in the Dutch filmmaker’s prying, suburban curio A Man And A Camera.

The bemused, slightly put-out gardener receives no reply from his unknown, mute interlocutor, and whether inquisitive or accusatory, this initial interrogation – echoed in later one-sided exchanges – adequately reflects the knife-edge tone of a documentary, by turns intriguing, amusing and disconcerting, that exists on distinct plains. In the awkward, immediate present, there is surprise, concern and apprehension; welcome or rejection. Offering no explanation as to his abrupt presence or purpose for invading the privacy of ordinary folk we assume to be complete strangers, Hendrikx simply observes people going about their daily lives, without comment.

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Ringing doorbells and standing silently as dumbfounded facial expressions and body language that betrays confusion, resentment or wariness search for understanding, the pacing of A Man And A Camera is pedestrian and its structure repetitive. However, that is by no means a criticism in this instance. Whether accepted, rejected, even assaulted, the reactions Hendrikx receives from unwitting subjects, some willing, many not, are natural, unfiltered and fascinating. Could this be some kind of candid camera, are they going to be on TV, or is this man perhaps deaf or unable to speak, is there something more sinister at play here?

Aligned firmly with the director’s point of view, a viewer’s seat is an uncomfortable one. Implicated in the multiple intrusions, more or less taken along for the ride against our will, we invade private spaces with him, as confused, concerned individuals regard the camera, and us, with a level of wary scepticism. By the same token, we project our own thoughts on to those whose front doors we open. How would I react to someone standing outside my house with a video camera, saying nothing? With no oral input other than diegetic sound (wind, footsteps, birdsong, traffic), our only physical sense of the filmmaker is in the occasional shadow cast across the ground or reflection seen in windows.

And without any intertitles or direct audience address to clarify his intentions, we have as little say in matters as do Hendrikx’s subjects. As ingeniously simple as it is unnerving, step back from the ambiguity of A Man And A Camera and on a higher, existential level, what is it that the director is saying here? Welcomed with a smile for regular visits to one man’s home, he is warned via a community WhatsApp group that his actions have been reported to the police. Are those people he films naïve and overly trusting, or should those who see only a menace have greater faith in the good intentions of people, even if they are unclear?

If loving thy neighbour extends beyond those who live next door, perhaps Hendrikx is encouraging those he sees to look upon him with the same lack of judgement or comment as he does them with A Man And A Camera. Whatever the takeaway message, you’ll certainly pause for thought after what is a deceptively inventive, individual piece of filmmaking and worthy contender in the CPH:DOX DOX:Award strand of the festival.

Reviewed on: 23 Apr 2021
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Filmmaker Guido Hendrikx doorsteps the unsuspecting residents of Dutch suburbia.

Director: Guido Hendrikx

Runtime: 64 minutes

Country: Netherlands


Vilnius 2022

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