De Kinderen van Juf Kiet :: All Human Life Is Here, and It’s Delightful…

Cineville - De Kinderen van Juf Kiet

De Kinderen van Juf Kiet - Miss Kiet's Children — is a beautiful, heart-breaking documentary about a class of refugee children in a small village school in the south of Holland. It's one of those films where nothing really happens, but actually, on reflection, everything really happens. It's a perfect microcosm of the vast heart-wrenching smorgasbord of human behaviour.

In the opening scenes, a little girl called Haya is crying and wants to go home. She wants to ask Miss Kiet to phone her mum but she still doesn't speak Dutch, only Arabic. Haya is from Syria.

Throughout the film, new class members arrive. One is Jorj, also Syrian, who you can tell is trouble as soon as he arrives, although mostly good trouble. A cheeky kid with oversized glasses and a desperate need to be the centre of attention, Jorj finds it very difficult to concentrate and is always on the verge of falling asleep in class. This is because he can't sleep at night. And the reason he can't sleep at night is because he's still severely traumatised by living in a war zone. 'Boom boom,' he says, in a rare moment when Miss Kiet gets him to talk about what's really bothering him.

Cineville - De Kinderen van Juf Kiet

Miss Kiet is wonderful. As well as teaching the kids how to speak Dutch, she also spends a lot of her time keeping the peace and trying to get the kids to integrate.

Getting to know the kids is a riot of emotion. You see them acting out — you see Haya, for example, playing domineering mother to a tiny newcomer, and later bullying a Dutch girl in the playground. Later still, you see her dancing, amazingly, like she was born to it. You see all of the kids learning how to be human, trying to deal with their emotions, trying to handle their fear and their pain.

In Syria, they couldn't go to school because it wasn't safe. In Miss Kiet's class, they're given another chance to have a life that most of us take for granted.

Cineville - De Kinderen van Juf Kiet

The whole film is incredibly moving and just remembering it now (two weeks later, sat on a coach on my way to Birmingham, of all places) there are tears in my eyes. There is one scene, however, that's particularly heart-breaking. It involves the children approaching a large mirror in the sports hall and being asked to act out various roles in a fairy tale: the decrepit old man, for example, and the beautiful princess. Jorj and his little brother Maksem — the two kids who seem to be most affected by their former lives in Syria — simply can't do it. They are so damaged by war that they can't even look at themselves in the mirror. It's very, very painful to watch. 

The scene in which the children dance together on stage to Pharrell Williams' Freedom is also particularly moving, as they do it so beautifully. Those who can't dance, and those who can — they all do it beautifully.

De Kinderen van Juf Kiet is a very simple documentary. There is no voiceover and no plot to speak of. We are just invited to watch a bunch of kids as they integrate, form allegiances, laugh, cry, fight, play and grow. It's reminiscent of Être et Avoir, but the fact that the kids are refugees makes it so much more moving. These are the innocent victims of capitalism. Watch Shadow World, then watch this. One begets the other. The world as it stands is fucked. And if it wasn't for the Miss Kiets amongst us, we wouldn't stand a chance.


Cineville - De Kinderen van Juf Kiet


The Viewing

This was my first time in Zaal 1 at the Eye, which is huge of size and brown of hue. To the left of the screen was a large organ which one day I hope to hear played, and the auditorium was maybe a third full, with around sixty people. Maybe. I don't really know. I'm not good with numbers.

The Eye is probably only a 23-minute ride from where I live, but it always feels slightly further because it's in the north of Amsterdam and includes a short ferry ride. Today there was a fine drizzle falling as I made my way there.

Ordinarily I find drizzle extremely annoying, as I think most of us do, but today, and quite a bit recently, I've been rather relishing it. I find it refreshing. The reason, I think — and I can feel myself becoming annoying now, and I apologise — but the reason I've started to enjoy drizzle is that I love this city so much. I know! But seriously. I love Amsterdam so very, very much that, as long as I'm out in it, riding through it, everything is good.

Today it occurred to me that I'm like someone who's so much in love with their partner that even when their partner is in a foul mood, all pissy and full of scowls, they still just want to tousle their hair and nibble the lobes of their ears. You know?

I'm sorry. I'll try and find something to complain about soon. (I won't.)

About the Author

I am Karl Webster. I wrote these words. If you liked them, you'll be overjoyed to know that there are plenty more where they came from. So you should definitely sign up to my newsletter if you haven't already.

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