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Glimmers in the Dark

What measure of true grit does it take to interweave separate worlds? A report from the Ljubljana International Film Festival.

What measure of true grit does it take to interweave separate worlds? In truth, how do we imagine to know that what is set apart does not belong together? Delving into the haphazardly changing depths of identity, a noteworthy trio of cinematic graces is up to the task of responding, even if forming their own questions in reply. As quintessences perform a number of feats, teasingly flickering before our eyes in Eskil Vogt's Blind, meandering through the seemingly shallow waters of Fellipe Barbosa's Casa Grande, and burning to death in overbearing doubt culminating Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala's Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh, Ich seh), the rollercoaster of human frailty never once pulls to a stop.

Deftly swishing the t(r)ail of the narrative's many endings and beginnings, Vogt's feature debut eloquently embodies his screenwriting skills as previously witnessed in hushed, attentive collaborations with director Joachim Trier. The focus of its many close-ups is Ingrid (a wonderful Ellen Dorrit Petersen), a woman spending her days in a lofty, rather desolate Oslo apartment after suffering a recent loss of vision. The pale, milky walls engulf Ingrid in what at first strikes us as a silent struggle, but they soon begin to cave in before a bubbling fountain of imagination and sorrow collected in a single person.

Reality incessantly changes shape, gender and location in the mind of this writer deprived of visual observation, resulting in a flurry of mishaps and twists in the fictional lives of her touching characters, porn-obsessed Einar and single mom Elin. The playfully delivered cavalcade of poignantly revealing fantasies and fears ranges from Elin's instant loss of sight, leading her to converse with waiters who have left the room, to Ingrid's husband Morton involved in a threesome with explicitly dressed ladies of the night before Elin's unseeing eyes. The latter episode is followed by a delicious scene of a laughing Ingrid sprawled on the couch with an empty bottle of red wine on the table, hardly what one learns to expect from the prescribed direness of her physical state.

It is in this moment that Blind stages a decisive battle between the conflicting veins of perceiving, feeling and knowing, proving essential to Ingrid's disengagement from her own tightly woven fictional webs and real life stumbling blocks merged in a flurry of mercurial images on the screen. As she eventually merges with the outside world, a deep-set acceptance finds her humorous spirit making peace with what is in front of her, even if she cannot see it. Although her piercing eyes never linger on the camera, we are left to wonder which of her jokes are on us.

Believing one's eyes can yield all sorts of bitter fruits, as the young protagonist of the Brazilian Casa Grande knows all too well. Opening with a frontal dollhouse view of the imposing titular house, its meticulous construct is revealed as its owner extinguishes one by one of its lights, serving as metaphorical lanterns of different social strata controlled by the one momentarily aloft, hovering a bit above the others. The introductory light bulbs flicking off are a cue for future departures from the house in the wake of hedge fund investor Hugo's (Marcello Novaes) bankruptcy-in-denial, affecting everyone from his Francophile wife down to the promptly fired long-time driver Severino.

However, the undoubtably main character of the story, Hugo's pubescent son Jean (Thales Cavalcanti) is the one who remains truly blind longest, occupied as he is by his budding loves and desires. The manifold lines in Casa Grande, be they class, race, sex, age or any number of other potential denominators are as clear as day, which is why they are easily crisscrossed by so many of its intriguing characters. No border stays clean and no person stays clean, seems to be what director Fellipe Barbosa is telling us. His expansive film has the classical structure of a bildungsroman-cum-social blueprint that paints across demarcations in tender tones, never straying into simplistic blind alleys. Jean copies his father's words, defining himself in his father’s terms for a long way into the film; when he attempts to break free, he does plenty to forget the searing stamp of his parents on his skin.

This irremovable, umbilical seal tying us to our ultimate birthplace in another person lies at the core of a dark, ingenious blend of identity horror-thriller brought into being on, to this end, particularly fertile Austrian soil. In Goodnight Mommy, Franz and Fiala build a mesmerizing shifting terrain of mistrust, concealment and angst, with the cynosure reserved for the grave unspoken.

In a modern, glacially cool house in the countryside, twin boys (Elias and Lukas Schwarz) are expecting the return of their mother, spending their hours in entrancing cornfields and inky lakes, all of their games hinting at a loss of being and presence already in place. When a woman (brilliant Susanne Wuest) does arrive, her face hidden behind carefully maintained bandages, her voice muffled and stern, her patience nigh on non-existent, the film plays like a return of Persephone gone horribly wrong. As key motifs accumulate and impersonate one another, the tone of the cinematic composition evolves beautifully, ultimately surpassing all regrets and hopes for redemption in eerie harmony.

At the root of these three full-scale germinations the fantasy of entwinement glows like a firefly in the night. Watching their tendrils sprout at the Ljubljana International Film Festival is a magic almost unrelated to the allure of the festival’s FIPRESCI winner Buzzard, directed by Joel Potrykus. Its anti-hero Marty (Joshua Burge) circles over a landscape utterly bereft of purpose and passion, a kingdom ruled over by apathy and dreamlessness. His capacity to wish for companionship or caring nipped in the bud, Marty is caught in a net of despondency not entirely of his own devising. Potrykus' promise of desolation rings true, for it is already among us. The look into its Medusa's eyes petrifies, but also proves that the hope of togetherness its pictorial sisters—Blind, Casa Grande, and Goodnight Mommy—strive for are more than worth the effort.

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Nice to see Liffe covered on Mubi! I saw 11 movies at the festival, best 50eur i ever spent ;)
Wow, 11 for 50? That’s as steal! What did you see that you liked, blush? DCK

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