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KARLOVY VARY 2024 Competition

Review: Tiny Lights

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- Through the eyes of her child heroine, Beata Parkanová shows a whole history of perpetuated family trauma and allows us to imagine the little girl’s future

Review: Tiny Lights
Mia Bankó in Tiny Lights

Czech director Beata Parkanová returns to the Karlovy Vary Crystal Globe Competition with her third feature, Tiny Lights [+see also:
trailer
interview: Beata Parkanová
film profile
]
, after winning the Best Director Award for The Word [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Beata Parkanová
film profile
]
in 2022. It is a decidedly small but perfectly formed film that lets the audience in on the entire psychological and emotional history of a family, and allows it to imagine its future – in only 76 minutes.

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The story is told from the angle of six-year-old Amálka (Mia Bankó). We first see the bright-eyed, red-haired, freckled girl leaning against the door in an attempt to hear what her parents and grandparents are arguing about. We hear their voices in the distance and can barely make out that her mum, Irena (rising star Elizaveta Maximová), is in tears while her own mother, Eva (a fantastic Veronika Žilková), berates her – they’re saying something about responsibility and how it has nothing to do with happiness.

Tomáš Juríček’s camera follows the girl throughout the film, often tracking backwards in front of her, and most of the time it stays at her height level. So, when Amálka enters the living room, we see a low-angle tableau of four adults realising they have been caught having a heated argument by the child they thought was asleep. It is uncanny how true and relatable this brief scene feels.

They pretend everything is fine, and it’s time for breakfast. But nothing is, in fact, fine: even as the girl’s dad, Zdenek (Marek Geišberg), is preparing the food, Irena is angry at him for pouring milk into a mug instead of a glass. The girl’s pet, Mr Cat, then jumps on the kitchen table and spills milk all over Irena’s dress, making her explode.

It is clearly best that the girl goes with Grandma and Grandpa (Martin Finger) for a day trip to a lake. In the meantime, Irena will supposedly be meeting a friend and Zdenek is going to a football game. But first, Amálka is sent out to play in their big garden, and is then invited over to the neighbours’ to hang out with their kid. Thanks to the framing and Alois Fišárek’s editing, we are transported into the little girl’s imaginative, fairy tale-like world, upon which a painful, confusing reality constantly intrudes.

The era the film is set in is not revealed, but there are no mobile phones, and Parkanová was born in 1985, so we can conclude that she might have drawn on her own memories. However, the film’s psychological aspect is so accurate that it doesn’t matter if it’s autobiographical. We perceive Eva as the key source of Irena’s suffering, but also that of everybody else. She never keeps her petty, self-righteous and judgemental comments to herself, only rarely considering whether the kid can hear her. But to blame Grandma for everything would be to do exactly what she herself is doing. This is about the perpetuation of invisible family trauma, and as the film is peppered with psychedelic inserts (made to look as if they were shot on 16 mm) that imply Irena is depressed, we can easily picture Eva’s own mother’s behaviour, and then her mother’s and so on, through the generations.

The young Bankó fully inhabits Amálka, and we don’t have an impression of “child acting” or her reciting lines – she understands the camera. The world she lives in is meticulously created through set and sound design and lighting, and as the adult actors’ faces are off-screen most of the time as the camera takes the girl’s point of view, we are fully immersed in it along with her.

Tiny Lights is a co-production between the Czech Republic’s Love.FRAME and Bontonfilm Studios, and Slovakia’s Azyl Production. London-based Reason8 Films has the international rights.

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