Flocking: A dark portrait of a community in which the victim becomes the scapegoat
by Lynn Klein
- BERLIN 2015: A peaceful community abandons all its rules when a 14-year-old girl claims she was raped by her classmate
Swedish director Beata Gårdeler has presented her second feature, Flocking [+see also:
interview: Beata Gårdeler
film profile], in the Generation section at this year's Berlinale. The film, funded by the Swedish Film Institute, is set in a close-knit community in northern Sweden, a place where everyone knows their neighbour and life is idyllic. But the boat is rocked when 14-year-old Jennifer says that her classmate Alexander raped her.
Instead of finding the perpetrator guilty, the community dynamic takes on Jennifer and decides that she is to blame. She and her family are accused of lying, and face the anger of a collective that excludes those who dare to speak their mind. The court and the law are suspended by the flock, and the only thing that matters is to stick with the group or be expelled.
The movie beautifully portrays the idyllic community that, at the beginning, lavishly celebrates a wedding while everything is still in order. They gradually turn their backs on Jennifer and show their dark side, up to the point where they are even capable of murdering innocent animals. The audience itself is at a loss as to who is credible in this scenario; we never get any evidence of what happened. Though Jennifer, portrayed by Fatime Azemi, is clearly distraught, she remains passive, not once openly defending her claim.
The person pulling the strings behind the operation, Alexander's mother, Susanne (played by Eva Melander), gives us a dark glimpse into what a person is capable of when their loved ones are threatened. She is a master at manipulating her peers, most notably through chat messages. These messages, posted on the screen, are a brilliant device used by the film to convey the growing anger towards Jennifer, against the backdrop of the pristine Swedish landscape in which the film is set. At first, it is not clear who the author of these messages is, and they become all the more cruel when the sender is revealed. The juxtaposition of beauty and raw hate works brilliantly.
The camerawork adds to Jennifer's quiet desperation by focusing on her during long takes. During her testimony, the camera lingers on her and focuses on the palpable grief and desperation of her situation. The camera's play with focus and holding back gives us a full view of the events that unfold.
Eventually, the audience finds out what really happened, but the open ending leaves us to wonder what the consequences will be.