Unassuming in scope but with far-reaching implications, Bas Devos’s Here (2023) uncovers meaningful connections between two disparate individuals and the worlds they occupy. In Brussels, migrant construction worker Stefan (Stefan Gota) gradually gears up for a journey back to his native Romania to visit his mother. While tidying his apartment and cleaning out his fridge, he transforms a bunch of wilted celery, leeks, and carrots into a bubbling pot of soup, which he distributes with care into plastic containers. Over the next few days, he will gift them to his friends, his mechanic, and his sister. Meanwhile a bryologist Shuxiu (Liyo Gong) prepares for her dissertation on moss, which she refers to as “micro-forests.” She and Stefan meet by chance one rain-soaked night when he steps into her aunt’s restaurant.
Shooting half-constructed buildings and full-fledged forests, Devos tracks down beauty in the mechanical and the natural while locating an essential harmony between them. We see ducks waddling through a train yard and moss piercing through the concrete. Gota’s face has a certain wolfishness—a prowling but defensive quality—that electrifies the film’s peaceful mood as he wanders about the city. Interactions with strangers are always a crapshoot, but the idyll of the film remains unruptured. Instead traces of the troublesome or violent are dampened into mere mentions, like news of an old friend now imprisoned, or conveyed into sound, like the big-machine noises that hum throughout the film.
The act of cooking can be a radical and political act, as Devos seems to recognize, rendering Here a compelling testament to collective care. Cooking for others, not just as labor but for pleasure or with consideration, is a powerful salve for the marginalized and a quiet defiance of a system rigged against them. Something as simple as a bowl of soup becomes an unwavering declaration of existence and resilience. Like the moss that grows unnoticed, Stefan and those around him have built their own networks, an entire world unto themselves.
Here screens today, October 8, and throughout the New York Film Festival, its U.S. premiere. Today’s and tomorrow’s screenings will be followed by a conversation with director Bas Devos and star Liyo Gong.