Television is usually not written about, but since this was at Fantastic Fest it has a home here. Tabula Rosa is a Belgian psychological thriller show revolving around Mie, a retrograde amnesiac— a condition which one cannot retain short term memories. A plot device like that cannot help but echo Christopher Nolan’s Memento, but Nolan film this is not. In addition to adjusting to life as an amnesiac, Mie is constantly hounded by investigators as she is the last one connected to a missing person, yet cannot remember a thing. Atop all of this Mie’s amnesia is mainly caused by anxiety and stress.
Tabula Rasa’s stacked conceit makes it easy to imagine a multitude of Jenga-like situations that hinge on memory recall, and the show wastes no time building up many of them to eventually tear down with reveals and twists. Mie’s fleeting memory is uniquely visualized in increasingly surreal ways. Varying from piles of red sand that slowly fill and eventually consume her environment, to her body reimagined as a porcelain figure shattering at the slightest nudge, Tabula Rasa visualizations are a definite highlight.
Veerle Baeten’s skill to portray amnesiac Mie, is used in wide array. Even though Mie’s self is shattered due to her condition, Baeten utilizes many shades of the character to appropriately compliment each interaction she has. Not limited to Mie, the rest of the cast gets a chance to flex multiple sides of their role too. Tabula Rasa’s layered structure allows performances to have multiple meanings each time a scene is revisited. What was once a concerned look or question transforms into something more manipulative and sinister.
Tabula Rasa has everything going for it, and yet, the overall effect after three episodes was a little shaky. At times I felt that the pacing was crawling, probably due to the nature of establishing the world and relationships. And while its components are unique, its overall effect on me was the same as any other solid European/Golden Age of Television crime show you might have come across on Netflix/Hulu. Tabula Rasa is worth giving a shot on its premise alone and I suspect many will find more enjoyment than I did. While I wasn’t completely sold in its first three episodes I would be curious to know how it ends for Mie when the series complete.