Saturday, July 27, 2013

MIFF Session 1: THE DAUGHTER: A date with the new business model.

A sunny afternoon in Athens. A teenage girl waits at the school gates to pick up her brother. In the back of the car he asks where they're going and she sighs and tells him they have to go and do something first and then he can do what he likes. The pair climb into a lumber storehouse the back way, familiar with it, aware of a need to be sneaky.

Time shifts: the girl finds father's flat with new locks on the door and a carpet of unpaid bills on the welcome mat: she tries her father's accountant who hasn't seen the man for days: at the flat she shares with her mother and mother's boyfriend she picks up a few things and flees: she settles the little boy back at the lumber yard and tells him he should never leave and that he is safe there: she heads through the streets which ring deafeningly with the shouting of protest rallies: she visits her father's business partner who asks if she has seen their son.  She tells them no. The boy is not her brother. He is her captive. In a line of dialogue The Daughter has gone from a De Sica style neo-realist film to a thriller.

Except that it does something strange. We have begun so compellingly that it would seem natural for the girl, Myrto, to play a taut and frightening mind game with the boy's, Angelos', parents. Oh, we get a look at the loaded gun rule prop early: a massive power saw. And we see that Myrto means business. But what we get instead of an assembly-line thriller is a study in sustained intensity and a fable for the Greek collapse that does not let up. If you look at Salvina Alimani in the titular role and think of a young olive Sandra Bullock you should know that she not only doesn't smile once throughout the entire running time but only gets more fierce.

The backstory to Myrto's mortal anger is kept lean and presented in easily digested further time shifts. Her relationship to the boy is the sole point of genuine character development in the film. While the mis en scene makes such skilful use of the many prison-bar like lines in the lumber store, frequent isolation of light to a small area of the 2.35:1 screen, and some contextually odd extreme high and low shots, it holds its realism tightly.

But it also keeps its eye on fable. Myrto reads Angelos dictionary definitions of words like debt and responsibility while he draws monsters. The nest she has made of the lumber store with it Dr Caligari angles and combustibility is spider like and maternal at once. Her response to their parents' betrayal of both of them is adolescent - enough personal power to act but not enough experience to know if she can - can be seen without a big stretch as a creepy portent of the new world business model: do-or-die, vengeful and self-preserving. The world has changed and the betrayed want the kind of redress that teenagers don't think twice about before turning to action. At one point the storeroom is invaded by theives who make off with a ute full of saleable timber and we remind ourselves that all this stock must now be owned by the bank.

Alimani's hard performance might strike us as monotonous but the consciousness she allows through her stern visage eventually show us that we are witnessing control, not limitation. Her expression in the film's final image takes this to another level.

I can imagine many sniffing at the mechanics of the climactic scene and the heavy handedness of its symbolism but while those things registered with me I also felt the anger in the imagery. The Daughter takes this anger and packs a lot of it into a laudable 87 minutes of screen time, letting us know just how it feels. And we who are or have been teenagers ourselves, have no trouble feeling the same.

PS - I added this on top of my annual mini pass as I realised I wanted to commemorate something: at the time of the screening last year I was being wheeled from the operating theatre with a plate newly drilled into my left fibula. I wouldn't walk again for months and had to skip last year's festival. The stroll into town this afternoon and the return walk were the sweetest I have known.

No comments:

Post a Comment