Unhappy Families By Jan Foll

in 41st Karlovy Vary Film Festival

by Jan Foll

The connection between several films in this year’s quality Karlovy Vary competition was the theme of bad relationships between parents and children. The most depressing generation conflict was portrayed in the Swedish film Mouth to Mouth (Mun mot mun) by Björn Runge. The story tells of an 18-year-old girl living with a drug addict who is forcing her into prostitution. Her father – a reformed alcoholic – is trying to save his threatened daughter.

One of the most dramatic episodes of the film shows how he kidnaps her from a supermarket and locks her in the basement. Meanwhile her helpless mother experiences an odd meeting in Bergman style with a stranger. This leads her to the revaluation of her attitude. In another, seemingly conventional family, it comes out that the father sexually abuses his teenage daughter. Composed in characteristic dark shades the tangle of traumas however has a hopeful unravelling. Home is shown as a relatively safe harbour where one can stand up to the terrible dangers outside.

The heroine of the American film Sherrybaby by Laurie Collyer, which was awarded the Crystal Globe, is a drug recidivist returning from prison. The straightforward Sherry (Maggie Gyllenhaal won the Best Actress Award for this role) tries to enter normal life and to reestablish a broken off relationships with her small daughter. Soon it appears that life outside of prison is more difficult than she expected. The relationship with little Alex is complicated by the child having been educated by the heroine’s brother and his wife. Sherry is helpless dealing with her distant daughter and once again turns to drugs. This convincing drama about the reform of sins has an open ending. Sherry decides to undergo detoxification hoping for a new start.

The Finnish competition film Frozen City (Valkoinen Kaupunki) by Aku Louhimies) is another version of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, The main character does the same job and fights intransigent loneliness as well. Unlike the crazy avenger acted by Robert De Niro, this hero is a normal guy dealing with a break-up. The Finnish taxi driver hopes for fair compensation from his wife and continuous contact with his beloved children. Despite his efforts, he is in the position of an unwanted outsider as if the whole world is against him. Unable to hold back his feelings while drunk, he attacks his annoying neighbour and ends up in prison. The drama Frozen City is a case history of twisted relationships set in the atmosphere of a dehumanized northern city. Commonplace misunderstandings combine with bureaucratic anonymity, the neighbour’s arrogance, emotionless sex and outbursts of evil aggression. Like the two previous films, this probe into the underside of the consumer society has no false happy end. The mentally tired hero is left alone and the only sign of hope for him is the distant sun.