It’s one of the hardest questions to ask in such a situation: how are you? At first sight, things are going very well with Rutger and Finette. He graduated this week from the St. Joost School of Art & Design in Breda and had the premiere of his first film in Tuschinksi, she has just completed her propaedeutic year in integral safety.
They live in their parental home in Geervliet, where they run the household together. “That actually goes very well, except for the usual bickering about the dishes,” says Rutger.
You can see why this is anything but self-evident in their living room. On the fireplace is a small altar with roses, a beautiful photo of their parents, the funeral card and a reminder of the date it happened: April 21, 2021, the day Anton and Monica died.
They were on holiday in Friesland and poisonous gas leaked from the battery of the boat they slept on. From that moment on, Rutger and Finette were suddenly orphans, although Rutger thinks that’s just a stupid word: “It sounds a lot more parentless than I feel. To me they are still very much present – they only live on Jupiter.”
That is also the title of his film: My parents live on Jupiter — the planet was visible from their living room window the week after it happened. When Rutger had that comforting thought – that’s where my parents are now – the idea was born to make it his graduation project. He studied photography, film & the digital and wanted to become a film director.
He toyed with the idea for a documentary for a while, ‘but that would feel like being behind the times’. Moreover, he didn’t want it to be the ‘big-what-are-we-sad show’, the story had to be more universal than just their personal experience. And so it became a 40-minute film, with two actors playing the roles of Ruben (Noa Claassen) and Floor (Suus Molenaar).
The moment the police ring the bell
The story has enough similarities with reality. Those first, unreal hours after they got the news, asking the house full of family, the swamp they ended up in (“What about taxes?”), the realization that only really sinks in when they see their parents in their see boxes. The film starts with the police ringing the bell and covers the first week after that, until the funeral.
But the interpretation is different, the dialogues and events come from Rutger’s pen, not from his memory. Moreover, the film is about so much more than just the facts: about how you grieve, and about how you can differ from each other in that regard. About how difficult it is sometimes to talk about death. About the support of friends and family and how it isn’t enough if all you want to do is see your parents again. And about the jokes, the moments of air and resilience, which also belong to it.
“The urge was huge to make this,” Rutger says. “I have never been so motivated for anything. In the first place because I notice how difficult it is for people to talk about dying. Luckily we had discussed it with my parents. My mother worked in aged care, so death was not a taboo subject. In fact, we had talked about it the day before they went on vacation. As a joke. What if something happens to you?”
“Well, they were clear about that: my father wanted to be buried on the bottom, my mother on top. She wanted the song to be played at the funeral. do not grieve by Diggy Dex would be played, my father chose The sound of silence from Disturbed. Three days later, that joke was a stark reality, but it did help us a lot. We really only had to choose the color of the flowers, for the rest we knew what they wanted most.”
Apparently it is a conversation that few have, Rutger noted. “People thought it was strange that we had talked about it so openly, but it was so valuable to us. I hope My parents live on Jupiter the reason will be that there is more talk about it. That after the last scene, the funeral, they look at each other and ask: what would you actually want?”
During his training, his teachers were not immediately enthusiastic about Rutger’s idea for such a super personal film. “They were afraid that I was going too fast. That the grief was still too raw.” But making it turned out to be healing. “I really enjoyed being involved with my own story in a different way. I was dreading directing: what would it be like to see my experience translated by others?”
“But Ruben and Floor are not exactly the same as I and Finette. For example, I have sharpened the contrasts in how they deal with their grief. Floor is very practical, while Ruben lingers much more in his disbelief. It really was that slightly different, and that made for a comfortable distance.”
“I directed the situation, not myself. And the final film makes it easier to reflect on what happened and explain to others what it’s like.”
What also helped was the good atmosphere in the team. “I received a lot of support from my producer Gido Krom. And we rehearsed relatively little with the cast and talked a lot. Finette often came to the set, so that Suus, the actress who plays her, could ask her everything.”
On the day of his graduation, Anton and Monica were also a bit there, just like when Finette got her high school diploma six weeks after their death. “We have a beautiful framed photo of my parents, which goes with us to those important moments.”
The film will soon be shown in the Pathé cinema on Schouwburgplein in Rotterdam. Other cinemas and festivals may follow after that. Rutger and his producer Gido Krom are also working on a plan to show the film in schools, so that something so heavy can also be discussed there in an accessible manner.
But for the time being, in the coming six months, Rutger will mainly keep quiet. “Making my film has kept me going lately. I now want to take some rest to be able to collapse if necessary.”
Mourning like a rowboat
Because the sadness doesn’t go away. A beautiful saying someone gave him: mourning is like a rowboat. “You have two paddles. One stands for crying and thinking about the past. The other stands for moving on with life. But if you only row with one paddle, you go in circles, you need both equally to move forward. The film was both paddles: it was as much remembering and commemorating as it was going ahead and focusing on my future.”
Standing still in mourning, he does not start there. “My parents’ motto on their funeral card was: ‘We have lived our dream. Now live our dream.’ Finette and I want to keep that motto in any case. We have both matured a lot – we were forced to, of course, but I notice that it has also made me a lot more confident. I think my parents are proud of us, there on Jupiter.”
Every Sunday we publish an interview in text and photos of someone who is doing or has experienced something special. That can be a major event that he or she handles admirably. The Sunday interviews have in common that the story has a major influence on the life of the interviewee.
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