With the award-winning Four Minutes, director Chris Kraus established a talent for powerful drama rooted both in character and history. The Poll Diaries furthers his craft and his curiosity about human nature, but this time the story comes from the life of his own great aunt. Unlocking a too-little known chapter of European history, Kraus recreates a Baltic community on the brink of the First World War.
In the summer of 1914, thirteen-year-old Oda Schaefer (Paula Beer) leaves Berlin to join her family and an assortment of German and Russian aristocrats on an estate in Estonia. The Schaefer family home is a character in its own right, a hulking, neoclassical manor that hovers on stilts above the sea. Oda arrives there bearing her mother’s coffin and a gift requested by her surgeon father: a jarred, two-headed fetus to add to his laboratory of gruesome curiosities.
Ebbo Schaefer (Edgar Selge) sees himself in his daughter when she calmly and expertly learns to suture the corpse of a cat. What he fails to recognize – and what Oda luckily understands – is that their interest in science is their only similarity. His dedication to experimentation is linked to an appalling obsession with power and destruction, while Oda is genuinely curious about life. Her quick, quiet intelligence complements her humanity and her lucid understanding of right and wrong. When she strays from a family picnic and discovers a badly wounded Estonian anarchist, she helps him without a second thought, smuggling him into her father’s lab and putting her new surgical skills to good use. As their illicit friendship deepens, family turmoil escalates and war closes in. The safe haven of the community collapses, forcing Oda’s family to make impossible choices.
Shot in rich, muted tones and sharp shadows, The Poll Diaries is historical drama at its finest. Posing a range of ethical questions, the film offers a compelling commentary on a morally bankrupt brand of reasoning that would come to underlie some of the greatest tragedies of the twentieth century. —TIFF
Chris Kraus (actually Christopher J. Kraus), born 1963 in Göttingen, is a German author and film director. Chris Kraus was employed as a journalist and illustrator before attending the Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin from 1991–98, where he studied film directing. Beginning in 1994, he worked as a dramatic advisor and screenplay writer for directors Volker Schlöndorff, Rosa von Praunheim, and Detlev Buck, among others.
In 2002 his first novel was published, titled Scherbentanz (Shattered Glass). He then also made a film based on this book, with the help of Margit Carstensen and Jürgen Vogel. The story has to do with the relationship between a young man who suffers from Leukemia and his mother, who herself suffers with alcoholism. In 2006 Kraus made his second feature film, Four Minutes, starring Monica Bleibtreu, Hannah Herzsprung and Nadja Uhl. Even before its official premiere in February, 2007, this film gained a great deal of attention at international film festivals… read more