If you are planning on attending the Beloit International Film Festival, which kicks off on Friday, February 23, and runs through Sunday, March 4, you would do well to attend the Midwest Premiere of Dark Blue Girl, the first feature film by the young German writer/director Mascha Schilinski. Unlike the more formulaic American indie offerings I’ve sampled from this year’s BIFF (the titles of which shall remain nameless), this European art film is exactly the kind of small, quiet gem that, through the refreshing confidence of its mise-en-scene, avoidance of narrative cliche and powerful but naturalistic performances, single-handedly justifies the existence of North American film festivals; it probably won’t receive distribution here so cinephiles should make it a point to catch it while they can.
Dark Blue Girl, the original German title of which, Die Tochter, literally translates to “The Daughter,” is a dark, Freudian affair about the complex family dynamics between a newly divorced husband and wife, Jimmy (Karsten Mielke) and Hannah (Artemis Chalkidou), and their pre-adolescent daughter, Luca (Helena Zengel), over a two-year span of time. Luca’s parents divorce when she is five but then spontaneously rekindle the flame of their romance two years later when they travel to a Greek island to sell their family vacation home. The irony is that Luca, now seven, is highly disturbed by the way her parents unexpectedly reconnect, and sees Hannah’s renewed interest in Jimmy as a threat to her own relationship with her father. Confusion and self-harm ensue – although the film never quite goes where you think it will.
The slow-burn narrative and Aegean setting hint at Greek tragedy but Schilinski wisely keeps the scale of her story human, intimate and relatable. The director’s low-key poetic approach is best exemplified in a terrific sequence where Hannah and Jimmy first renew their passion for each other: in the process of renovating their home, he removes a door from its frame and sands it under the island sun while she scrapes rust off of a chair nearby. Their labor creates percussive rhythms that soon turn into a kind of beautiful musical duet; the amplified sound effects and shot/reverse shot editing are at first humorous but soon give way to a potent eroticism. The whole magical sequence constitutes the kind of “grace note” for which John Ford was known, and marks Schilinski as a filmmaker to keep an eye on.
Dark Blue Girl screens at the Beloit International Film Festival on Saturday, March 3. For more information, including ticket info and showtimes, visit the festival’s official website.