Triumph of Vigor: "Itsi Bitsi"

in 34th Istanbul Film Festival

by Alexander Grozev

The competition program of the 34th International Istanbul Film Festival was created with fine taste and had a flair for the more compelling tendencies in contemporary cinema. Among the richness and diversity of the body of work shown at the festival, I would highlight Ole Christian Madsen’s film “Itsi Bitsi” (Steppeulven). The film triumphs through its vigor and the heightened emotionality of its narrative, as well as with its bright cinematographic qualities. I am hesitant, however, to share the need for changing its original title in the festival programme, because I believe that the unavoidable associations with the cult novel by Hermann Hesse are not quite accidental.  They are vital in our comprehension of the deeper message of the film, the plot of which could effortlessly mislead a significant part of the audience.  The historical context within which the romantic love story of Eik and Iben takes place proves to be much more meaningful than the melodramatic details of their unusual relationship.

In fact, Ole Christian Madsen’s film tells a story about the era of the ’60s and the generation that radicalized mass culture and lifestyle as an emanation of rebellion against the previous generation’s conformism and the hypocrisy of society, and does so in quite an impressive fashion. These problems are certainly not new to cinema; however, director Madsen’s interpretation is original in the way that it employs various stylistic elements. His film is both romantic and brutal, soaked in irony and internal tragedy. Madsen’s direction overcomes the danger of dissipation of the film narrative in the many directions that the theme easily offers.  The broken syncopation and rhythm accurately capture the spirit of the times while also highlighting the sensitivity of the generation that emancipates itself from the conservative morality of society.  Having undergone the utopias of political activism, this generation zealously destroys any taboos, seeking the feeling of freedom inside love – a freedom Eik finally finds in music alone.

Eik painfully wanders in the sensory frustration of his own existence.  He replaces the missing reciprocity with drugs, sex, and rock’n’roll. A poet and a romantic at heart, he pursues his love in an effort to achieve spiritual harmony. The excessive expectations soon become an undue burden for the character, and the film’s ending is predictably clear. But in our perceptions, it is this strong emotional feeling for the drama of the era that lingers; this acute feeling for human damage, wasted feelings and disillusionment that saturates the senses.

Inspired by real events and characters, Ole Christian Madsen’s film captivates with its universal themes and suggestions. The director’s strength is in the high cinematic artistry with which he reconstructs the forgotten idols of this era of youthful rebellion against conformism, banality and uniform thinking into compelling images and destinies. This is a film about these heroes’ idealism and their doomed urge to freedom.

Edited by Carmen Gray