Apocalyptic Teenage Girls By Karin Wolfs

in 36th Rotterdam International Film Festival

by Karin Wolfs

“Forget about the constitution or free speech. Here, school regulations come first,” barks a no lipstick tolerating teacher to a girl in school uniform whom he clenches firmly against a balustrade. Shivering in rage, angry-looking classmates stand around closely, fists clenched, but incapable of interfering in the ordeal. It’s only when a female colleague arrives, that the spell is broken and the school girl released.

The scene is from Hirosue Hiromasa’s Fourteen (Ju-yon-sai), which was amongst four out of fifteen of this year’s Rotterdam Tiger Award Competitors that touched the subject of the growing up of teenage girls. Three of that four became Tiger Award winners. Obviously, the subject appeals to young filmmakers, as it touches on a decicive periode of a person’s live, full of potential conflict – internally as well as externally – with the child redefining her identity in becoming a woman.

In Fourteen the lead figure Ryo has seen both sides of the line. As a fourteen year old, she exploded out of nowhere into attacking her autoritarian school teacher with a pencil. Now, ten years later, she finds herself as the potential target amongst fourteen year olds, struggling with her role as a teacher and guide. In cold green and grey pastels mixed with black tones, Hiromasa paints a carefully framed psychological drama with thriller elements that strives to keep the subcutaneous tension of an upcoming apocalypse alive throughout the picture.

Completely different in style, but comparable in its sultry atmosphere is Pia Marais’ Tiger Award winning The Unpolished (Die Unerzogenen) about fourteen yeer old Stevie that wanders around Europe with her old hippie-like parents, who in fact live as drug addicts and dealers. Marais uses a closely-on-the-skin, almost documentary kind of camera style to let us feel the insides of Stevie’s fourteenth summer, in which the sun seems to keep coming down endlessly. With her parents too caught up in celebrating their quite selfish “joie de vivre” with their friends, Stevie finds there’s no space left for them to address her needs or desires. After a series of idle attempts to conquer a place amongst local youngsters, Stevie – in a heartbreakingly search for acceptance – turns to one of her parents’ friends. Marais subtly accompanies the scene with the desperate hum of a caught-up fly. As the summer fades away, Stevie’s girlish desire for a set of “normal” parents makes place for her facing reality in a more mature way. Helped by the photographing boy next door, who could hardly be carrying the name of Haneke’s “Benny” coincidently, she pictures the facts, literally. When summer is finally over and birds start migrating, Stevie is leaving her parents to head for her own grounds.

Far more cynical is the way in which director Tan Chui Mui lets the slightly older country girl Ah Peng loose her virginity in the city of Kuala Lumpur in her Pusan Fipresci prize winner Love conquers all, in Rotterdam good for a Tiger Award. Where Marais’ Stevie lost a dream to gain a practical sense of reality, Tan’s Ah Peng looses her dream to a harsh desillusion. Even when her city boyfriend John tells her how a pimp works, Ah Peng keeps holding on to the little Eden he showed her at the seaside, only to get hell instead. The love mentioned in the title turns out to be a destructive force that makes a teenage girl wallow in misfortune.

Even worse off is the young Auxiliadora in Claudio Assis’s half a Tiger Award winner Bog of Beasts (Baixio das bestas) – (the other half of the award was shared ex aequo with AFR by Morten Hartz Kaplers). Auxiliadora never gets to resist. In the Tarkovsky-like half-lit opening shot of the film, we see her grandfather strip her naked under a lamppost, outside in a corner of what turnes out to be a church. As the camera zoomes out, a dozen panting men of different ages, gathered around for the spectacle, become visible, lured like flies to a honey pot. As the sugar cane harvest in the Brasilian fields surrounding the village is taken in, Auxiliadora is being exploited, raped and turned into a professional whore. Assis captures the atrocities of a moral-less world in strikingly beautiful, often one take–scenes, while flames haunt the surrounding apocalyptical fields of a society waiting for its final judgment.