AFI Fest 2010
By Don Simpson | November 27, 2010
Director: Jaap van Heusden
Writer(s): Jaap van Heusden
Starring: Oscar Van Rompay, Halina Reijn, Leon Voorberg, Hans Kesting, Phi Nguyen
Ivan (Oscar van Rompay) is 24-years old (born September 27, 1984) and unnaturally natural with numbers — crunching them, discovering patterns, etc. — a talent that quickly becomes apparent to his employer, Cahen & Greeson, by way of some strategically placed Post-It notes. Soon Ivan is surfing the waves of the stock market alongside his new mentor Stef (Leon Voorberg) — who describes his business associates based on the model of car they drive, their alcoholic drink of choice, and the physical type of the women they prefer — and immediately begins to rake in six…then seven…then eight digit profits for Cahen & Greeson.
Outfitted in a swank new wardrobe and living in a company-owned flat, Ivan is living a dream. He befriends the beautiful Cahen & Greeson receptionist Deniz (Halina Reijn) — when he asks Deniz over to his flat for tea, Ivan does so theoretically, in the third person no less, visibly calculating the probabilities of her possible answers. (Yes, Ivan is a quirky and eccentric individual.) Ivan also becomes friends with a Korean trader, Paul (Phi Nguyen), for whom trading does not come as naturally. As Ivan becomes more and more successful, it becomes increasingly obvious that Paul is on his way out.
Ivan’s success and glory comes with a hefty cost. His obsession with the stock market leads to increasingly long workdays and an unmanageable level of stress. Ivan can no longer sleep, so he aimlessly wanders the streets of Amsterdam each night into the following morning. Ivan is quickly breaking down mentally, and his trading decisions are becoming increasingly irrational and risky. Before he knows it, he has alienated from himself from the world around him. Despite his inherent love for numeric patterns and equations, Ivan cannot maintain his current pace at work for much longer. When a colleague commits suicide, Ivan is shocked into making a drastic change.
Win/Win, writer-director Jaap van Heusden’s feature length debut, takes place during the 2008 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and the beginning of the financial crisis in the United States, but other than television news reports playing in the background, van Heusden never brings the volatility of the United States economy into the forefront of his narrative. With the U.S. mainstream’s (a.k.a. Main Street) newly discovered distrust and disdain for Wall Street, it is interesting to watch this very sympathetic perspective of a stock trader. Ivan may have been temporarily swept up in the machismo attitude that brought Wall Street to its knees, but that was not Ivan’s natural persona. Greed and adrenaline may have turned him into a monster, but Ivan realizes his foibles and exits Cahen & Greeson before things go too far. It is also interesting — contrary to our perception of Wall Street traders — Ivan never seems all that interested in wealth or fame, he is much more intrigued with solving complex mathematical problems of a vastly complicated system.
Cinematographer Jan Moeskops does a brilliant job of visually conveying the frigid and unforgiving atmosphere of Win/Win. The environment of Win/Win is ultra-modern, almost to a fault — other than the cushy goodness of Ivan’s shaggy rug, everything appears incredibly sharp and unforgivable. Admittedly, in my few fuzzy at best forays to Amsterdam, I never bothered with the financial (or business) district — the Zuidas (South Axis); so despite my touristy familiarity with the comfy confines of old Amsterdam, the images in Win/Win seemed amazingly cold and foreign to me.
Van Rompay’s performance is reason enough to watch Win/Win. His movements — from the making of his daily coffee to his ballerina-like tenacity at hopscotch — are all pitch-perfect. As much as we have come to hate Wall Street, van Rompay makes it extremely difficult to not fall in love with Ivan. (That is no small feat in this day and age — especially in the eyes of this reviewer.) Van Rompay makes me wish that more stock traders would possess the rich intelligence and moral fiber of Ivan.
The one question I ask — and you, dear readers, might have some answers — is what does Ivan’s tossing of the shoes upon the electrical wires (a.k.a. shoe flinging or “shoefiti”) really mean? (I come from a context in which people steal one’s shoes and toss them up to the electrical wires as a means of torment — or as a gang sign. That is obviously not the intent here.) Considering that van Heusden dedicates the time to follow Ivan as he repeatedly does this, I assume it has some significance that I just do not understand. I have done some research and the closest explanation I can find is that it signifies that someone has died (as in the suicide in Win/Win). The reason the shoes are hanging from the wires is that when the dead person’s spirit returns, it will walk that high above the ground, that much closer to heaven. Another valid explanation is that someone (in this case, Ivan) is leaving the neighborhood to go onto bigger and better things. There are a lot of intriguing visual gestures throughout Win/Win, but this was the one that truly puzzled me.