Berlinale 2021 review: Human Factors (Ronny Trocker)

Although logic and philosophy have always affirmed the existence of a single truth, we erroneously continue in our effort to learn the different perspectives that form it. The components of this false approach to the truth are usually approached with a certain degree of idealization. And these visions deny the reality of the idealized, pervert it or are simply indifferent to it, subordinating themselves to other purposes and interests. As Human Factors shows, we will let ourselves be carried away by the emotions that the uncertainty arouses, by the fantasies that stimulate the suggestive forms of what we remember, falsifying the reality of facts.

Starting with a linear narrative, Human Factors follows Jan, Nina, and their two children, who arrive at their home on the Belgian coast for a relaxing weekend. But the idyllic image does not last for long, as it is shattered shortly after by a home invasion immersed in endless doubts. What happened? None of them can fully recount the incident. No one can describe the appearance of the intruders to the police in detail and there is no assertion of any of the facts. There is an attack on the PR agency the couple owns, and this is a trigger that will lay bare the most intimate issues of this family. And then… the story begins again from where it started, repeatedly, showing us different recollections of the events, some of them contrasting to what came before, others filling in gaps.

The before and after of the incident is uncovered piece by piece. Yet the confusion is magnified, as the new perspectives provide clarification but also raise new questions, resulting in an increasingly complex image. The family’s ability to judge becomes clouded and the more they question the events of the confusing incident, the more their views of what happened collide, leading to ever-widening cracks in family relationships. Every one of them is probably right but each has their own perspective. It is these changing perspectives that are the main subject of exploration for Human Factors‘ director Ronny Trocker. The ‘What happened?‘ hangs over the film, creating a collection of truths that make the viewer constantly question their own interpretation of them.

This ellipsis is not only a narrative approach to generate more uncertainty, but also affects the visualization of the changes in differing recollections of events. The camera follows each of the characters at different times, adopting their perspective, showing us the gaze of the thief and the reactive gaze of each family member down to the perception of the pet rat (which quickly uses the dizzying chaos of the situation to escape). This change of visual centers creates a dense and tortuous atmosphere with constant tension. Yet these different angles serve the viewer merely as guides but do not enlighten, as part of the whole truth will always be left in the dark.

Using an intricate elliptical structure full of confusion, Human Factors seeks to expose the ease with which perceptions can be manipulated through a narrative puzzle. Trocker masterfully constructs and deconstructs the plot of the film under an overwhelming and ominous cloudy sky that mirrors the growing discomfort within the family, for the truth belongs to each one of them.