starring Ruth Becquart, Steve Geerts, Anneke Sluiters, Tine Van den Wyngaert
written and directed by Stef Lernous
by Walter Chaw An art director's fever dream, Stef Lernous's Hotel Poseidon is a sequel in spirit to Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro's Delicatessen and a film that would comfortably complete a trilogy with Jeunet & Caro's City of Lost Children. Here, Lernous says that we're all the product of our shadows, those unexamined parts of us shoved into the crannies of our unconscious, and he packs every frame with florid, fulsome, grotesque manifestations of this idea, which is matched by a genuinely exciting dedication to going for it. It's not unlike a David Lynch film in that way, and like Lynch's work, its unpredictability and willingness to do anything make it both very funny and occasionally existentially horrifying. Sometimes in the same moment. Hotel Poseidon is set in a single building bathed in a sickly sepia palette and suffused with themes of submersion. It follows a vignette structure of sorts that finds a different psychodrama, a different element of the subconscious, played out in each room of a decaying apartment hotel. The film is a tour through the unconscious--a Being John Malkovich or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in which each new horror plumbs personal depths of grief, guilt, and shame most of all. (Its closest analogue may actually be Barton Fink.) Hotel Poseidon, in other words, is difficult to describe.
Dave (Tom Vermeir) is the proprietor--or caretaker, or owner, or all three (or none of them)--of the Hotel Poseidon, which is not, he tells lovely would-be guest Nora (Anneke Sluiters), currently in operation. That seems obvious, given how the hotel is in a disgusting state of disrepair, but Nora is persistent--and really, who is Dave to die on this hill? We're sutured to Dave from the start as he lies in bed, screaming through the thin walls at a neighbour watching something that sounds either like a woman being tortured or a woman having an orgasm. The neighbour obliges by turning the volume down, then gives Dave some advice along the lines of how Dave appears to be stuck in a rut, sleeping in as late as he does every day, letting the world fall down around him. He tells Dave it's not too late; Dave, for his part, maybe listens when Nora shows up asking for a place to stay. It's important to note the porn noises here at the beginning because Hotel Poseidon is interested in the subconscious and how shame is a foundational catalyst in the development of an individual's sense of self. Dave's first in-person encounter is with foul Erika (Ruth Becquart), pulling up her tights on a filthy couch and berating Dave for leaving her to "fingerbang" herself for hours. She's the first of a progression of sexual invitations Dave receives through the course of this day on which he's trying something new. How he addresses each of them revolves around a story told by a scary neighbour about how he once saw his parents fucking when he was a kid and, as punishment, his head was pushed into the befouled sheets.
The puzzle of Hotel Poseidon is less whether any of this is "real"--it's so surreal that it's safe to say such definitions are entirely meaningless--than what aspect of Dave's development--that is, which of his neuroses--is this nightmare-scape presenting to him now. Nora checks in and Dave somehow finds himself under her bed as she gets ready to sleep. In his shame and titillation, we see a vision of Nora bathed in beatific, natural light, the hotel now a place of potential new growth rather than a receptacle of rot and refuse. He introduces his Beatrice to an ancient aunt, whom he doesn't realize for too long has died. Later, in making a bargain for the removal of her body, he rents out the hotel's ballroom for a party he doesn't have any control over. At the party, Dave is humiliated by a high-school girlfriend and her buddies, by being refused service for not having a "ticket" to the event being held in his building, and by confronting the process of disposal he's sold his beloved aunt's corpse to in a clogged industrial sink. It's gruesome stuff, psychologically and viscerally, and it's carried off with unquestionable verve and confidence. Dave's tribulations end with his discovery of a green place. Not green in the sense of mildew and mold, but in the sense of trees and grass. He spends a lifetime in a healthier place of mind. And when he returns, the things that were insurmountable to him are suddenly pitiable. That's the way it goes, doesn't it? The things that appear impossible are sometimes just that way because they're lurking there behind your fear. Hotel Poseidon is a film that deserves a monograph. I hope it's the herald of a long and productive career.