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BIFF 2018: Empty Space and Dark Blue Girl (Die Tochter)

February 25, 2018

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Our coverage of this year’s Beloit International Film Festival (BIFF) continues with two films about pain and the ability people have to really and truly hurt one another. One of these films deals with that conceit in a wholly simplistic way while the other digs deeper and looks at the legacy that manipulation and pain leave behind. These two films couldn’t have more different approaches to the subject matter and they’re an interesting pair to compare and contrast.  “Empty Space” screened last night at the festival and will be screened again this coming Friday. “Dark Blue Girl (Die Tochter”) premiered a year ago at the Berlin International Film Festival and it only had one showing at BIFF, but here’s hoping it’ll find a wider audience in the future. 

 

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EMPTY SPACE (2016)

USA/76 min.

“I deserve to be forgiven.”

What should have been a touching story about two outsiders—overweight teen Tom (Merrick Robison) and blind laundromat worker Lilly (Elizabeth Stenholt)—turns out to be a film hampered by twee dialogue, gross oversimplifications, and a supporting cast that could graciously be described as amateurish. “Empty Space” is a relationship drama that seeks to be an achingly real look at first love in the age of bullying, but it’s set in a cartoon world with cartoonishly simple characters. While the film, the second feature from James Choi, attempts to be a treatise on the crushing effects of bullying, its periphery characters are all straw men full of hate for everyone, taking such a simplistic view of bullying as to be insulting. By giving every hateful person in the film a reason for their awful behavior, it excuses that behavior and lets them off the hook. The leads can’t help but be the only fully developed characters in the film as they’re the only ones allowed to learn anything and grow in any meaningful way. If the film works at all, it’s thanks to its leads. For a film permeated with the notion that “everybody hurts”, it’s sad to report that it takes no more opportunity to dig into that notion than the REM video for the song of the same name did some 20 years ago.

RATING: **

 

 

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DIE TOCHTER (DARK BLUE GIRL) (2017)

Germany/103 min.

“You’re not allowed to love each other again”

Rich with beautiful, imposing scenery, German writer/director Mascha Schillinski’s feature debut is an interesting meditation on the effects of divorce on a young child. Seven-year-old Luca (Helena Zengel) has spent the past two years coming to terms with the divorce of her parents Hannah (Artemis Chalkidou) and Jimmy (Karsten Antonio Mielke). However, when circumstances draw the estranged couple back into each other’s arms, it turns out to be the opposite of what Luca wants, and she begins a baldly manipulative game to split them apart again. Anchored by three brilliantly calculated performances – particularly from the young Ms. Zengel – the film is a twisted look at how people can use and abuse those they hold dearest in order to get their own way. It’s the kind of film that an American director might have softened, but instead goes down those darker corridors that Europeans filmmakers love exploring. A haunting film that will linger with you long after it’s over, “Die Tochter” is a film about the lasting power of pain and how easy it is to leave that as your legacy without necessarily intending to.

RATING: ****

 

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