Mundane Dramas

in 51st Viennale - Vienna International Film Festival

by Krzysztof Kwiatkowski

“Problems of the first world” is an ironic and disrespectful term that has been functioning for a long time on the Internet. The directors of The Dirties (Matthew Johnson), The Reunion (Anna Odell) and Locke (Steven Knight) remind us that representatives of wealthy western societies living in comfortable single-family houses are also suffering. And pain remains painful. And it cannot be discredited.

The Dirties by Matt Johnson is a portrait of American teenagers stylized as a homemade video shot by two enthusiasts. The protagonists are ordinary; they roam through parks, fool around and play by editing records from classes. Pestered by class thugs, they decide to make a film in which they will get even with their persecutors. However, the carelessness of youth shows its dark face here. Desolation and frustration give rise to aggression. This is a study of the phenomenon of bullying at school, a study of all small injustices that accumulate in a person until it is impossible to tolerate them.

The Dirties is a drama from the epoch of mass media, which floods us from all sides with images. Director Matt Johnson, who is, at the same time, the main character of the film, faithfully renders blurred borders between truth and fiction, because sometimes it is easy to overlook the moment when you stop performing in front of the camera and your actions have real consequences. The impression is intensified by the fact that the film really resembles materials recorded by teenagers.

The Reunion also tells a story of violence, born in school class pranks. This is another breakneck, intelligent play between reality and art. But Anna Odell, the director, goes even further than Johnson. The character that she plays is called Anna Odell. She also shares her biography. At a certain moment, it is difficult to realize who is the actor and who is the real person. But maybe this is not important?

The author films a class reunion which takes place after two decades from graduation. It tells us about the feeling of failure that accompanies the class loser. It portrays a girl who, despised by her peers, starts to believe that she is worthless. School complexes are transferred into later life. Because people, as Odell suggests, do not really change as much as they claim, even if they acquire experience along the way, a good job, a house, a garden and a car.

Johnson and Odell follow the fates of characters who have just entered adult life. Steven Knight, an esteemed scriptwriter and director, reverts the perspective. He tells the story of a man who has gained everything that he wanted. And now, he can lose it all.

Locke is a one-actor film starring the excellent Tom Hardy. The action takes place in real time; on the screen there is nobody except for one man. The middle-aged man goes to London by car where a woman, with whom he spent one night, gives birth to his child. In the course of 85 minutes the character’s life turns 180 degrees. On the phone, behind the steering wheel, he has to tell his boss that he is going to be absent from the company on a very important day. In the same way, he confesses infidelity to his wife and the fact that he is going to be a father again. But if he did not get in the car and did not accept the consequences of his actions, he would not be able to look at himself in the mirror. Knight and Hardy create a multi-dimensional portrait of a man from the middle class — with his convictions, ambitions and past. A man who does not want to become subjected to the shallowness of the present day, he remains defiant against corporate mentality.

These three films supplement one another. They become stories about dramas that are hidden in ordinary, wealthy lives, dramas that hurt, no matter how affluent the environment in which they happen.

Edited by Tara Judah