Netflix’s Dutch drama, Stromboli follows a divorced woman stumbling upon an unconventional self-help retreat on her vacation, pushing her to open up and address her traumatic past that she has been repressing all her life.
Sara is a middle-aged alcoholic divorcee who has come on a vacation to the Italian volcanic island of Stromboli. Her sex and booze binge begins before she even lands on the island, and within a night, she ruins her Airbnb, is kicked out because of it and loses her bag and phone.
She’s woken up at the church by a man sporting beads and pale-blonde hair, Jens. He runs a self-help retreat called From Fear to Love, where Sara is welcomed and given a place to stay.
She eventually signs up for the retreat and meets other people who are suffering from their low points of life and traumas of the past. Slowly and with initial reluctance, Sara has a breakthrough, and several layers of her past trauma are peeled off.
Sara eventually confronts her trauma and the characters in her life, albeit through a virtual, spiritual, and unconventional exercise. Other people at the retreat also make their own breakthroughs and together they all depart to their respective homes.
Sara departs for her home too, having made some strong friendships and a relationship, ready to meet her estranged daughter and share with her the details of her pain and trauma, and open up to her properly.
Elise Schaap plays Sara to near perfection, portraying her pain and repressed self brilliantly, as well as the heart-rending trauma one goes through following their sexual assault.
Additionally, she manages to strike the delicate balance between a broken person and one who goes through a journey of self-help and is quite often also pretty comical.
The supporting cast is filled with great talent, and Tim McInnerny shines through exceptionally even among his talented peers. His unadulterated and incredibly precious innocence is just as heart-wrenching as any other painful experience in Stromboli.
The film benefits significantly from the casting as there’s almost no bad performance here and the supporting cast lends their part with all the competence and nuance required from the particular scenes.
The camera work is dexterous and the handheld shots lend congruent energy to the unstable and frenetic developments that Sara goes through. Meanwhile, the backdrop of Stromboli landscapes is put to great use.
While the film deals with several heavy themes, the way it deals with them is often questionable at best.
Instead of providing a proper medium and tool for the characters dealing with repressed trauma, it opts for an intense self-help retreat with all the bells and whistles of a hippie endeavor huffing the culturally appropriated ganja.
The unconventional exercises like recreating the rape scene are so bizarre that they result in an unintentional hilarity which only warrants an awkward laugh as the viewer is left stunned at the stupidity of it all.
The aforementioned choices also make certain characters like Jens seem pretty contrary to how they’re supposed to be portrayed as.
There is not enough time for characters like Harold and Hans to fully unfold their traumas and aches of the past, even if they make up most of the time and material they’re given.
Stromboli is an expertly directed drama that delves into the heart-rending core of a person inflicted with great trauma and their difficult journey to contend with it. In the process, however, the film introduces and treats the subject matter with a script and certain sequences that warrant a frown instead of applause.
While the actors give their all, the substance often doesn’t suffice for some whose stories deserve it just as much as the film’s more primary characters.
Director: Michiel van Erp
Date Created: 2023-02-03 13:30