TIFF 2014 Review: Waste Land
The title is fair warning: the haunting and chilling world of Waste Land is a descent into animalistic madness.
Belgian writer and director Pieter Van Hees examines the life of a Brussels homicide police officer who finds the stress – nay, the horror – of his work creep into the apparent bliss of his personal life. Leo Woeste has a five-year-old son with his partner Kathleen, and the pair is welcoming a second child as Kathleen discovers she is pregnant.
Time is chronicled through this dark, noir drama from her perspective, matching the weeks of her pregnancy to the actions of Leo. He is embroiled in a murder case that finds him infiltrated a mysterious and dangerous subculture. As Kathleen’s pregnancy progresses, Leo regresses, falling further into this sordid mystery.
Leo admits that Brussels doesn’t have an overwhelming amount of murders a year, but they each get to him, and this case that involves Congolese artifacts, underground fights, and an enigmatic young woman, testing Leo’s mettle.
We’re treated to images of a literal wasteland throughout, as this portrait of Brussels is cold, bleak, an indeed littered. It’s an uncomfortable and often surprising watch; when a man is suddenly, violently killed in an instant at the beginning, it sets a dreary and somber tone for the rest of the film.
Leo finds himself losing control of his morality, letting the worst of those he tracks seep into his mind. Waste Land tells a simple tale intimately and profoundly, tracking the lost of self that a father and husband experiences when confronted with the worst of humankind. The viewer too is tested too in this tense, visually-disturbing and seemingly endless struggle.