They Moved Forward without Fear By Enrico Bosten
Coming-of-age themes appear to be an inexhaustible storyline-source for newcomer filmmakers. This year’s 56th Mannheim-Heidelberg Film Festival presented a substantial number of rite of passage films in the International Competition. In Desierto Sur Chilean director Shawn Garry tells a road-movie about the young professional Spanish swimmer Sofia, trying to discover herself while searching an unsearchable village in the Atacama Desert to fulfill her dead mother’s last will. The Canadian competitor Mona’s Daughters (Le cèdre penché) by director Rafaël Ouellet has the same initial point: The mother’s death, a country singer and heavy smoker, brings together two estranged sisters as they channel their dolefulness by conjointly producing a cover version of one of their mother’s songs. Another Franco phonic film, Red Ants (Les fourmis rouges) by Belgian director Stéphan Carpiaux, deals with another variation of coming-of-age, the breakout of parental dependence and expectations. Here it is the 16-year-old Alex that loses her mother in a car accident. Trying hard to replace her, subliminally forced into that role by her father, she fails and loses herself then finds foothold in Hector, who is similarly abused by his aunt.
In Desierto Sur and Mona’s Daughters, the death of the mother is used in its very archetypical meaning as impulse for change and metamorphosis, but also in its meaning of something hidden or secret, as in Desierto Sur: The arcane letter with the unknown address, which is also the title of the movie, raises questions in Sofia about the past of her mother and thus about herself. What follows has been formerly described by A.V. Gennep: Sofia must go through three phases, rites of passage consisting of: separation (she quits her swimming training and leaves Barcelona), lamenting (on which’s turning point Sofia has a vision of her mother in the desert, holding her in an iconographic picture, this time giving a positive impulse for change) and incorporation (when Sofia has completed the rite and we see her swimming again). Red Ants intensifies the arcane aspect, creating a mystic atmosphere through gloomy imagery and by insertion of voice-over passages about Red Ants, such as: “slowly the column of Red Ants was progressing. Nothing and nobody could keep them from fulfilling their mission”. The mission is simply to live, which for Alex is not even easy at all. After her mother’s death she understands life as a fate that she can’t escape from. Even though Alex realizes that something has gone wrong, she is incapable of helping herself. The loss of her mother made her grow up too quickly, but inside she is still a child. Together with Hector she learns to let off her past.
Desierto Sur, Mona’s Daughters and Red Ants were shot by different directors from different countries, which have something in common: they all had only shot short movies before and thus experienced their own cineaste coming-of-age with their first feature films. And they let us know a bit more about growing-up, letting go, not just closing the door to the past, but going on. When at the end of Red Ants Alex is driving happily with Hector on his moped through the forest, the story of the Red Ants sounds hopeful: “They moved forward without fear and nothing else mattered”.