Tabula Rasa – Episode 1
Starring: Veerle Baetens, Stijn Van Opstal, Gene Bervoets, Hilde Van Mieghem, Cécile Enthoven, Jeroen Perceval
Director: Kaat Beels, Jonas Govaerts
Writers: Veerle Baetens
Reviewed by Sidney Morgan
This review CONTAINS SPOILERS.
Doesn’t it drive you bonkers when you can’t remember something, especially when it’s as benign as where you put your keys? Or some papers? What about faces? Remember that time you walked downtown and saw someone you swear you knew, but try as you might, you couldn’t remember who it was? Frustrating, right? For most of us, memory is taken for granted. When you leave work to drive home, you don’t actively think about the way, do you? When you get up at night to go to the bathroom and are half asleep, you know where to go, yes? (Well, you might still stub your toe though…) But what if you didn’t remember these things? Imagine stepping out of your work office and realizing you have no idea how to get home. Let alone where home is. That would be terrifying, no?
Tabula Rasa, a new Belgian thriller available on Netflix, stars Veerle Baetens as Annemie, or Mie for short, who suffers from anterograde amnesia as a result of car accident. Whereas Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore in 50 First Dates) resets her memory every night and is unaware of her condition, Mie is fully conscious of hers. And in her case, memory loss can be triggered by any stressful situation, including the stress that results from worrying about losing her memory. How’s that for a crappy condition?
In this first episode, De Geest, we find out Mie is locked up in a psychiatric hospital due to a major relapse. Thomas De Geest (Jeroen Perceval) has gone missing under mysterious circumstances. Mie is the last person to have seen him, and due to her condition, she can’t remember. Inspector Wolkers (Gene Bervoets) has made her a person of interest and won’t allow her to leave the hospital hoping she’ll remember something. What follows is an episode that plays out between present day and a series of flashbacks.
The actors perform really well. Veerle Baetens absolutely nails her role. She struggles with the consequences of her memory loss and how it affects her family, I just wanted to reach into the tv and console her. Stijn Van Opstal, who plays Mie’s husband Benoit, does a great job showing us the patience that is required to live with someone who suffers from this affliction. Hilde Van Mieghem who plays Rita, Mie’s mother, lightens the mood when she interacts with her daughter. Even Cécile Enthoven, who plays Mie’s daughter Romy, is at ease in front of the camera. The performances were so natural. It let me get fully immersed in the story.
Although advertised as a thriller, there is a definite supernatural quality to the show. The house they move into is old, dark, and surrounded by forest, not unlike typical haunted houses. The mood sets you on edge, and the sound effects and music work well with the story. But what really messes with your mind is that you never know if what you’re seeing is real.
Due to her amnesia, Mie suffers from confabulation, meaning she fills in the gaps in her memory with fabricated facts and experiences. Mie’s perception is partly an illusion. Here’s the rub, how much of it is real and how much isn’t? Is there really a three-headed cat? Was there a bright light? And what about the red sand? And to make us question, the directors are showing us what Mie sees. We’re in the dark as much as Mie, and it’s terrifying. What a true mind bender!
The episode title, De Geest, was a nice touch. It could literally refer to the missing man’s last name (Thomas De Geest). But it also translates to specter or ghost, which could be a reference to the supernatural elements in the episode (if there are any…). Or it also translates to ‘mind,’ which could reference Mie’s fragile memory. And this can’t be a coincidence. The care and effort put into this show can only mean good things for subsequent episodes.
Admittedly, I did find the subtitles frustrating. Only because as I read, it temporarily tore my gaze away from the images onscreen. And watching it a second time didn’t help as I couldn’t help but read them. Aargh!! Nonetheless, it’s a beautifully filmed, high-quality show. Even the opening credits have a silky-like quality, clearly showing that to tell this story, the budget wasn’t going to be a limiting factor.
Verdict: A must watch! Among a sea of competing television show, Tabula Rasa is by far one of the better shows I’ve seen in a while. The acting, the cinematography, the setting, the story, it’s all amazing. You will likely be tempted to binge watch, but like a good glass of wine, do yourself a favour and let it sit a little to better savour the flavour.