Parents Defying Responsibility, Daughters Trying To Cope

in 23rd Festival of European Cinema, Lecce

by Paola Casella

Many films in competition at the 23rd Lecce European Film Festival showed parents unable to accept their role, and daughters coping with their absence and lack of practical and emotional support.

Absentee mothers and fathers, unable or unwilling to take on the responsibility of parenthood, deaf to their children’s practical and emotional needs, loneliness, and distress, blind to their own selfishness and narcissism. And as a consequence, teenagers and young adults unable to find their place in the world, left alone to figure out their lives, self-supporting, self-relying, and completely detached from their parents, when not filled of resentment towards them: this seems to be the leitmotif throughout many of the films presented in the main competition of the 23rd Lecce European Film Festival, which is giving a depiction of deeply dysfunctional families throughout Europe.

For example, Laine, the protagonist of Latvian entry Neon Spring by director Matiss Kaza, must take care of her little brother because her mother lives far away and her father cannot be bothered with parent-teacher meetings and the child’s speech, a behavioural problem. Left completely alone to provide for herself, Laine drinks, takes drugs, breaks into houses, has impromptu romances, and tries to make up for her parents’ total lack of interest in her and her brother’s lives. The most heart-breaking scene is the one when she directly confronts her father, begging him to take care of her and not to unburden his parental responsibilities on her.

Meri, the protagonist of A Ballad (Balada, 2022), the Bosnian entry by director Aida Begic, returns to her mother’s house after running away from her abusive husband, and leaves behind her daughter. She will try to get the child back, but will not actively fight for custody, hoping for an improbable reconciliation, until the little girl’s father beats her to it. Tina, the 24-year-old protagonist of Georgian A Room of My Own (Chemi Otakhi, 2022) by Ioseb ‘Soso’ Bliadze, leaves her house after her husband stabbed her because she was cheating on him. Tina’s father refuses to speak to her, her mother does not step in to shelter her, and her former mother-in-law calls her a prostitute and accuses her of having ruined her son’s life. Tina is forced to look for an apartment, sells her jewellery to pay rent and tries to find a job to support herself, but she is completely lost, and her life goes off the tracks without any adult help.

Finally, 17-year-old Eve has been left alone by her mother, who moved to another country, and her separated father Linas, who had become an alcoholic, in Lithuanian’s 9th Step (9-Tas Zingsnis, 2022) directed by Irma Pužauskaitė. But here we can at last see a ray of hope: Linas has sobered up and he learns, albeit through trial and error, to take responsibility for his daughter and to put her before his needs and ego. 9th Step becomes a welcomed parable on forgiveness, and after long resistance Eve will manage to welcome her father’s newfound ability to face up to his role.

Paola Casella
Edited by Rita Di Santo