Freedom and eugenics at the dawn of a new empire
by Vittoria Scarpa
- An intrepid young girl, a doctor exploring the brain and a pursued anarchist at the dawn of the First World War. The latest film by Germany's Chris Kraus after Four Minutes
What stays with you the most about Germany director Chris Kraus’ new film The Poll Diaries [+see also:
interview: Chris Kraus
film profile], presented in Competition at the Rome Film Festival, is without a doubt the striking location: a strange country house overlooking the beach on a remote natural reserve in Estonia. The director of the multiple award-winning Four Minutes [+see also:
film profile] chose precisely this decadent and almost dream-like setting to depict the end of one era and the beginning of the modern age, at the crossroads between the German and Russian empires.
The story unfolds on the eve of WWI and centres on 14-year-old Oda (Paula Beer), who returns to her family house on the Baltic Sea, a region where Germans, Russians and Estonians live side by side in a delicate balance. There, she is received by her Ebbo (Edgar Selge), a doctor doing bizarre eugenic brain studies, and members of an aristocracy clinging to their privileges but on the edge of ruin. Passionate and fearless, Oda hides and tends to a wounded Estonian anarchist (Tambet Tuisk), she meets, a young writer who will help her discover love and risk.
"Besides being a real person, Oda Schaefer was also a great-aunt of mine,” said Kraus. "A poetess who was known in Germany in the 1950s but who sank into oblivion". Because of her communist ideas, the director’s conservative relatives wouldn’t even speak her name. "When I discovered her, studying German literature, I wondered how she managed to make such radical and independent choice, despite her roots". In his film-homage, a melodrama with a talented cast and crepuscular photography, Kraus offers answer.
(Translated from Italian)