Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2016 - Future Frames

A look of two of the ten shorts in the EFP's Future Frames programme, which saw ten short films from ten new directors play Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. On Clemens Pichler's Diorama and Rebecca Figenschau's Elephant Skin.

“For something to be believable as a utopia, there must be a resemblance to our shared imagination of paradise” states one of the two protagonists of Clemens Pichler’s Diorama. In his film, the entire life-cycle of a relationship emerges from a shared fairground ride and plays out in an energetic, visually impressive thirty minutes. The couple’s two distinct visions of paradise rarely align.

In the first scene, Rocio (Helen Blechinger) and Kolja (Burak Yigit) step onto the ride tentatively and come off of it with a sense that their union was fated. Charting the preceding breakdown, Pichler stages a series of scenarios, some entirely manic and others more measured, that show where their realities parted and their relationship derailed. Through the excitement of the first date, to the hedonistic revelry of shared parties and their embittered comedowns, and the final, prolonged breakup, Pichler evokes a sense of how frenetic the early stages of a relationship can be, and how tumultuous this initial overzealousness can make the ensuing separation feel too.

In a film of garish hues, assaultive editing and confrontational thematic content, Pichler makes fairly severe tonal and aesthetic shifts (roaming closeups to static wide shots, electronic music to classical, rapid cuts to longer takes) with a fluidity that is a credit to the director’s vision and his editor’s technical ability. As the film progresses and the couple’s doubts about the others commitment to their relationship, Pichler ups the visual ante, creating ever more outlandish and surreal scenes to exaggerate their encroaching doubts and the distance created.

Most interestingly, he plays with perspective and scale, staging elaborate tableaux out of various props and environments, before folding them in on themselves or pulling out to reveal their artifice. As their relationship falls apart, so does the frame he builds around it, whip-panning left to the next nightmarish vision or tracking back to reveal the discomfort of their isolation.

Diorama is not subtle. Many scenes are overdramatic and Pichler’s sensibility is hyperactive, if stabilised by two good performances from his leads. The result is fairly exhausting, a kind of overstated demonstration of intent by a director with a keen visual sense and a lot of ideas he wants to get out. Further, there is the sense that some of the scenarios included are not there for any particular narrative purpose, but instead the visual possibility of the scene. Despite this, as a statement from a new director, Diorama is undeniably compelling, with countless arresting compositions and inventive formal tricks, even if that means it feels more like a thirty minute demo-reel for what he may be capable of than anything else.

In Rebecca Figenschau’s Elephant Skin, the only thing icier that the expressive Norwegian landscapes she features is the strained father-daughter relationship at the centre. A kind of short-form winter pastoral in the mode of Winter’s Bone or (), Elephant Skin follows the struggle between Johanna (Iben Akerlie) and her father (Björn Anderson) over how her son (Nicolay Kofler) should be raised; and in a grander sense, how life should be lived.

In the film’s opening, Johanna takes her son back home to live with his grandfather, both father and daughter having recently separated from their respective partners. Just as Figenschau effectively conveys the closeness of Johanna’s relationship with her son, an intimacy and comfort displayed through looks, gestures and touch; the steeliness between her and her father is immediately palpable. Their mutual distrust seems to have been established through the father’s treatment of his ex-partner, something that Figenschau’s smart, subtle script later confirms to be the case; but its also intergenerational, his stubborn, distinctly rural Norwegian brand of masculinity running in contrast to her urbanised, progressive lifestyle.

Across a number of sequences involving the father’s insistence on imposing his version of masculinity on the child, this hostility between father and daughter mounts. The boy must learn to gut fish, to not cry when hurt, effectively to suppress any outward display of emotion as his grandfather does. Maintaining a commendable sense of control over proceedings, Figenschau builds the psychological pressure between the family, bouncing their oppositional visions of parenthood against each other until passive aggressive displays give way to a full blown power struggle for the boy’s affections. It is here that Elephant Skin’s feminine voice comes through strongest, undermining the outdated values of masculine society without admonishing her characters or audience.

For the grandfather, the most important thing in life is control, and it seems Figenschau in some way agrees. Elephant Skin is a familiar film and and one that never really treads any new ground, and as much of the conflict is internal, a battle of minds rather than fists, the film isn’t all that eventful through its course. Yet, it’s also one that reveals an assured director who is very capable at directing her actors, having them externalise their conflicting emotions without breaking into melodrama. The grandfather’s conclusion about the nature of their struggle is that “in nature only the strongest survive.” Figenschau knows better. It’s all about balance.

These reviews were originally posted on Nisimazine.

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