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“When It Melts” Confronts the Consequences of Unresolved Trauma


PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 21: Ellen Havenith, Veerle Baetens, Rosa Marchant, Charlotte De Bruyne, and Bart Van Langendonck attend the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “When It Melts” premiere at Park Avenue Theatre on January 21, 2023 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Michael Tullberg/Getty Images)

By Lucy Spicer

The audience at the post-screening discussion of When It Melts, which premiered January 21 at the Park Avenue Theatre, definitely had some feelings about the film’s ending. The main one being: Why couldn’t it have been happier?

“Because this happens. This is reality,” answers writer-director Veerle Baetens. “And I wanted to show this reality of someone who is not able to talk about [their trauma].”

The someone in question is Eva, the main character. The film toggles between a sweltering summer in the small village 13-year-old Eva calls home and a cold, gray winter during which adult Eva returns to that village from her current place in the city.

Adult Eva (Charlotte De Bruyne) is at a crossroads of sorts. Her younger sister has just moved out of their apartment, and the loneliness weighs on Eva quickly and heavily. When she receives an online invitation to attend a gathering in her hometown celebrating the life of a childhood acquaintance, she hesitantly accepts. She makes sure to pack the essentials, including a dress for the event, her pet turtle, and a huge block of ice.

When we meet 13-year-old Eva (Rosa Marchant), she’s looking forward to spending the summer with her best friends, Laurens and Tim. But Tim has come back from school with a new priority — girls. Eva finds herself being pushed out of the group; she’s not one of the boys, but they don’t see her as a girl, either. Desperate for validation in ways only a teenage girl could be, she does whatever it takes to be part of the trio again, even stooping to help Tim with an ugly riddle game he wants to play with local girls. But the affection-starved Eva underestimates the cruelty of which adolescents are capable.

This is the summer that turned Eva into who she is now, and she’s come back to the village to do something about it.

Baetens felt drawn to make the film after she read the book on which it is based (The Melting by Lize Spit). “When I read the book, I really recognized myself in little Eva — a young girl that wants to be seen, and especially at that age, wants to be validated by boys,” she says at the post-premiere discussion.

“And adult Eva, she fascinated me because I see people like Eva around me,” she continues, describing those whose trauma has led them to shut out others and silence themselves. “I wanted to get closer to a person like that, because they’re difficult to understand, and a lot of people don’t understand them.”

If we never told sad stories, we could never learn from them, and we should be trying to understand trauma responses like Eva’s. “I know it’s a sad story,” says Baetens. “But it is a realistic story.”

This film contains sexual content and sexual violence. Not recommended for audiences under 18.

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