Review: We Were Just Playing
by Bénédicte Prot
- Ann-Kristin Reyels tells the story of a child’s "empirical" discovery of a somewhat magical and yet brutal border zone
We Were Just Playing by the German director Ann-Kristin Reyels – her third film after Hounds [+see also:
film profile], about a father and a son who have trouble getting accepted into the East German countryside (FIPRESCI Prize at Berlin in 2007), and the island-based Formentera [+see also:
interview: Ann-Kristin Reyels
film profile] (2012) –was screened in world premiere in the New German Cinema section at Munich Film Festival.
Proposed as a sort of realistic fairytale, the story unfolds in an enchanted forest, but doesn’t hesitate to let its audience in on the sordid goings-on occurring along the border separating Germany from the Czech Republic. This is where Jona (Finn-Henry Reyels), 10, has just moved with his mother and stepfather. Idle and left to his own devices, he takes advantage of the summer to explore nature, and quickly discovers that while he loves to pretend he's communicating with other planets, in the country over on the other side, where he accidentally finds himself one day by chance, there are much less dreamy concerns determining the daily lives of children his age.
When Jona meets Miro (Roman Bkhavnani), a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy forced by a guy ordering a bunch of pre-adolescent children to be taken away by car with German "customers," Miro's first reflex is to monetise their relationship. But without saying a word, of course, the two boys become friends, and we soon realise that Miro's initial defiance was more about protection than anything else. We also come to realise that Jona's fascination with the forest is due to his inability to comprehend how such a joyful and free area of nature could be entirely inhospitable to others, especially since it appears to bring things together more than it does define two opposing universes – with two separate weights and measures – which he now travels between every day.
The director proposes a very interesting, empirical representation of the concrete reality of borders, which she makes the audience cross continuously, in one direction and then in the other, with Jona, on foot, by bike, by car, without ever allowing us to see the point of departure. It’s in this intermediate zone that we meet the characters, brought to life with incredible maturity by the two young actors - whose appearances and attitudes place them perfectly between two ages, except that one has just glimpsed the adult world, and the other still lets himself be a child at times. This rhetoric of the “in-between” allows Reyels to bring the film’s absurdist dimension and strangeness to life in all its proximity and distance. We Were Just Playing, with its mise-en-scene and its concise dialogue is a very elegant film that in its simplicity, also has something pithy about it.
We Were Just Playing was produced by Christoph Holthof and Daniel Reich for Kurhaus Production, which is also handling international sales.
(Translated from French)
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