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BERLINALE 2023 Generation

Zara Dwinger • Director of Kiddo

“Films should be allowed to be enjoyable”


- BERLINALE 2023: Get ready for a new pair of outlaws – and a pet snake – in this Dutch road movie about a mother and daughter

Zara Dwinger • Director of Kiddo

It’s time to hit the road in Kiddo [+see also:
film review
interview: Zara Dwinger
film profile
, shown in the Berlinale’s Generation Kplus section. Or so claims Karina (Frieda Barnhard), who has just shown up at her daughter Lu’s (Rosa van Leeuwen) foster home with an intention to kidnap her child – at least for a while. As they head to Karina’s native Poland, illusions are inevitably crushed. But the pair also become closer than ever, as we found out from director Zara Dwinger.

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Cineuropa: We all know about kids who are “half-abandoned”. Their parents aren’t always there, which often means they just keep on waiting.
Zara Dwinger: I wrote the script with Nena [van Driel], and we really wanted to talk about mental health and parenthood. How do you navigate that? At one point, we had these characters the way they are now, but they weren’t going anywhere yet. Then we decided to make everything larger than life – also this relationship.

There is a shift that happens later on in the film – at first, Lu idolises her mother. She is lying to herself to protect that image, and then slowly she understands what is really happening. We put a lot of personal stuff in the film, but we also did our research, talked to child psychologists and found out that when a parent is not there for a long time, it’s easier to stick to that “perfect” version of them. Later, as we grow older, everyone has this moment when we realise that our parents are just people and, yes, they make mistakes.

You stay very loyal to this girl’s point of view: the audience knows as much as she does.
We were wondering about that, too. Should we explain more? But I wanted to retain Lu’s perspective. That’s how you experience life as a child: you don’t get all the answers, just a broad picture. Also, in the end, it really doesn’t matter. Karina wasn’t always there for her child; she is unpredictable, but she loves her, and they will try to make it work. I like the fact that we leave it like this, in the middle.

Why did you opt for a retro feel for the whole story? There are references to Bonnie and Clyde, and claims that the only good films are in black and white.
Karina is always trying to escape into fantasy – that’s what she does. She runs away from things, in general, but she clings onto pop culture. This “nostalgic” feeling is not even accurate, as she didn’t grow up in that era! But there is this dream of “the old world”, where everything was much better. Also, it makes her feel as though her life is more cinematic.

She is yearning for something that never existed. For a while, you can believe that she really worked in Hollywood, like Lu does. There is this cool car, but it breaks down all the time and there’s rust everywhere. It’s cool, but something just isn’t working. Also, I wanted this film to be timeless. I wanted a modern fairy tale, not too deeply rooted in reality.

You are quite realistic about this relationship. Which is not to say that you don’t allow for a glimmer of hope.
I wanted this movie to be not just about an 11-year-old, but also to be for 11-year-olds. What can they take away from it, especially if they are in a similar situation? You don’t want to be too delusional about it, but you also don’t want to be too bleak. I wanted to normalise mothers who aren’t perfect, who maybe can’t care for their children all the time. You can’t really change your parents that fast, so Lu has to lead the way. She does stand up for herself, in the end.

You hint at generational trauma, too – at this terrifying thought: what can I bring to the table, as a parent, if I wasn’t given that much to begin with?
You can always blame your parents, but they were children as well. That’s why I have so much sympathy for Karina. She is still a child, and maybe that’s one of the reasons she can’t take care of Lu. But it’s not like she had the easiest life either. Also, with mental-health issues, you can’t always fix things easily.

You could make a very heavy movie about all this, but that’s not what we wanted. We couldn’t “dumb it down” either, so we incorporated what kids like the most: humour and fun. I like that, too. It was easy because Karina creates playful situations all the time. Once we’d made that decision, we came up with this nod to “lovers on the run”. What does she want this road trip to be? She would want it to be like Bonnie and Clyde, more like a movie. That tone is very important, I think. For the young audience, sure, but also because films should be allowed to be enjoyable.

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