The Erlprince: In the dark human forest
by Dorota Hartwich
- Showcased as the opening film of the Gdynia Film Festival, Kuba Czekaj’s film, inspired by Goethe, confirms the young filmmaker’s potential
The 2016 edition of the Gdynia Film Festival kicked off yesterday with a bang. Indeed, although made by a very young director, Kuba Czekaj, the film that opened the festival, The Erlprince, is undoubtedly a piece characterised by real intellectual and artistic maturity, which also offers what audiences expect most from film: a healthy dose of food for thought, visual impact and strong emotions.
This year, the official competition of the 41st edition of the Gdynia Film Festival is a rather special one, as it is dominated by young national film, with seven of the 16 films in the running being first and second features. Furthermore, The Erlprince is actually the debut feature by Kuba Czekaj, even though his second opus, Baby Bump [+see also:
interview: Kuba Czekaj
film profile] (acclaimed in the Biennale College section of the Venice Film Festival in 2015) was presented to the public first. As pointed out by the director, The Erlprince is his real debut film, the film which, in his words, is "the purest", the most personal and the most relevant. Indeed, whilst writing the screenplay, then during filming, the director noticed that his own trajectory and that of the main character in the film converged over time. As shooting a debut feature is a sort of test: the director learns to say what he wants to express as an individual out loud, and must find his independence, his autonomy.
The protagonist of the film, a young 14-year-old boy, The Erlprince (lit. The alder prince), must also fight for his freedom. But his battle turns out to be particularly difficult. First of all, he’s not exactly an ordinary human being, but a child prodigy, exceptionally gifted at physics. Furthermore, he’s raised by just his mother, an authoritarian and over-protective woman. Finally, he has foreseen the coming of the apocalypse, and builds a digital clock that counts down the days remaining until the end of the world.
The film clearly references The Erl-King by Goethe and, as in the German poet’s piece, the main character in Czekaj’s film must cross a forest haunted by an evil creature. But this time we’re dealing with the forest of humans who oppress, hinder and violate his freedom. One of these is his mother, whose blind and possessive love weighs increasingly heavily on him. Another is his long-lost father, the relationship with whom is primitive and dangerous, like the wolves the boy sees around him. It’s also his new university friends, his professors, and so on and so forth. Here, Goethe’s forest is the boy’s painful transition from childhood to adulthood, from having an ill-defined identity to that of a mature man. And like in Goethe’s piece, this transition proves itself to be dramatic, and could lead the subject to his death.
Kuba Czekaj’s film is a variation of the story, a romantic ballad. And even more than the portrayal of a modern family (fragmented, broken, in pieces), it is one of an individual put to the test, a test that each and every one of us must pass at some point in our lives. In The Erlprince, this test is taken to the extreme.
Whilst grounding the film in a classic work, the director uses special effects to shape a fully contemporary film, without trying to blow us away at all costs. And mention should certainly be made of Stanislaw Cywka, the lead and young talented actor who we are certain to see again and again in the future and who forms one half of a remarkable duo with Agnieszka Podsiadlik (in the role of the mother).
(Translated from French)