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IFFR 2020 Tiger Competition

Review: Kala azar

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- In her feature debut, Janis Rafa proves you don’t need Mad Max to go post-apocalyptic

Review: Kala azar
Penelope Tsilika in Kala azar

Setting out to watch a film named after a chronic and potentially fatal parasitic disease is not everyone’s idea of a fun-packed Friday night, but Janis Rafa’s feature debut, Kala azar [+see also:
trailer
interview: Janis Rafa
film profile
]
– selected for the Tiger Competition at this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam – somehow manages to elicit entirely different reactions than fever, severe weight loss or even kidney failure. Although it could have benefited from a more distinctive visual style, at its best moments it feels a bit like something that Cormac McCarthy could have come up with in his spare time. Provided he switched his focus to animals a bit more.

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This is because the central couple have a rather unusual occupation – they drive around, picking up deceased pets to cremate, repeating the usual comforting shtick to their bereaved owners while asking them to fill out the forms, thank you very much, assuring them, “Every pet is cremated individually.” They don’t discriminate either, even collecting a fish when necessary. Not that you will ever really know why, as their backstory and the state of their actual relationship are not something that’s openly discussed here – and neither is anything else, for that matter. But such verbal restraint, at least once you get over the shock of it, brings the story much closer to its four-legged heroes. Even quite literally, as the film opens with scenes that could just as well be witnessed through their very eyes, from a limited, knee-high point of view – something that Elsa Kremser and Levin Peter also recently tried in Space Dogs [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Elsa Kremser, Levin Peter
film profile
]
. There is no forgetting that film any time soon.

However, Rafa doesn’t care much for shock value. She handles her material with care, and tenderness, even – just like Penelope Tsilika’s character in the film, tending to these fragile, lifeless bodies as the couple also happens to collect unnamed dead animals that they frequently come across during their travels. She is an actress this writer would certainly like to see more of in the future, while we are at it. All of this makes Kala azar a lot more melancholic than one could ever have expected: full of lonely people with nothing but animals to keep them company, and struggling to let go of them even when it’s time. The story itself seems a bit hazy, but Rafa is good at creating moods, showing a mostly deserted, post-apocalyptic world that seems to be falling apart in the least spectacular of ways, with dogs barking and little jars clanking constantly in the background. It really feels like death is everywhere in this film. And she doesn’t even need to say one word about it.

Written by Janis Rafa, Kala azar is a Dutch-Greek co-production staged by Digna Sinke, Konstantinos Kontovrakis and Giorgos Karnavas for SNG Film (Studio Nieuwe Gronden) and Heretic - Creative Producers. The sales are handled by Heretic Outreach, and it is distributed in the Netherlands by Gusto Entertainment.

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