Dutch director Marco van Geffen plans to make a trilogy about “the tragedy of the happy family,” entitled Vinex, after the housing projects in the suburbs created by the Dutch state since the mid-1990s. His debut, Onder Ons, follows an introverted Polish girl named Ewa (Dagmara Bak) to one of these suburbs, as she takes a job as an au pair with a Dutch family and quickly has to deal with cross-cultural sensitivities and misunderstandings.
Van Geffen chooses to underline the communication and cultural gap with an individualistic approach to narration, presenting Ewa’s story in three parts, each under the title of a different character: Ewa’s host husband Peter; Eva’s best friend in Holland, another Polish au pair, the outgoing Aga (in many ways Ewa’s opposite); and finally Ewa herself. Each of the sections, however, clings to Eva’s perspective as her time in Holland takes a stress-filled turn, leading to her being put back on the bus to Poland.
But van Geffen manages to create a discombobulated atmosphere with a halting and elliptical editing style, teasing us as to Ewa’s feelings and motives, and keeping hidden the structuring mystery that holds the film together: there’s a rapist in their midst, and Ewa thinks she knows who it is but has nobody to tell. The result is a chilling peek past the empty spaces and into the secrets of suburban life, a film that up until the very end refuses to play all of its cards.Mark Peranson