While depicting an engaging and emotionally taut drama, Zondvloed (Flood), selected for competition in the Miami Short Film Festival, hobbles itself by prioritizing production value over substance. It is beautifully photographed and designed (the credits that bookend the story let us know it was an extensively collaborative project with neither a small crew nor a shoestring budget), but the film succumbs to one of the most devious traps of cinema: diverting valuable screentime away from developing its narrative arc, its plot and characters, to make room for the filmmakers’ vanity and various forms of cinematic fanfare.
The film takes place in 1672 Holland, during the Franco-Dutch war. A textual prologue outlines the forced flooding of farmland to protect the Dutch Republic from the advancing French forces. The curtain rises on a young farm owner’s son as he witnesses his neighbors being brutally coerced into surrendering their land to the Dutch crown. The son tries to persuade his father to flee with his family and submit the farm. But the father is an obstinate man whose loyalty to the land he’s cultivated is stronger than to the flag, and he initially refuses. The son decides to pack the wagon and leave on his own, altering his plans only when his younger sibling catches him in the act. His father centers, carrying his bedridden wife, who can no longer walk, into the escape wagon, seemingly conceding to his son’s suggestions.
However, as the family prepares to depart, it becomes evident that the father has no intention of leaving the farm, which has already been damaged from the adjacent flooding. Son confronts father and the lengths the father will go to protect his land become painfully, undeniably clear.
Flood, written and directed by Nils Verkooijen, presents a complex web of interfamilial dynamics, factions of loyalty, and hard decisions. It is a basic distillation of a person forced between a flood and a hard place: surrendering their means of life and wellbeing for the “greater good” of their country’s safety. But the film merely scratches the surface of these questions. When the final confrontation concludes and the epilogue text begins to roll (describing the vast areas of flooded land that ultimately halted the French troops’ advance but left families south of the waterline unprotected from the enemy troops) we are left wanting more. This, more than anything, is indicative of the precedence designated to production value over substance.
The film acts as a telescope zooming into a specific scene amidst a regional crisis during a national conflict, and it zooms out much too quickly. The performances (including a stellar physical altercation in the film’s final moments) are charged and the cinematography creates a crisp sense of urgency, but the characters’ struggles are overshadowed by the film’s own vanity. There are no cracks in the armor of the slick production, leaving little room for the human element of empathy to shine through.
Zondvloed (Flood) leaves you with the feeling—as the two minutes of end credits roll to cap an eleven-minute runtime—that the filmmakers were more interested in sourcing the finest technical resources to make the film look as Big Screen ready as possible, and in the process, prioritized production value over substance.