Friday, October 26, 2007

LFF: The Unpolished

The Southbank Centre; photo by Val Phoenixdir Pia Marais

"By the way, our daughter worries we're losers." Given the large number of films viewed at the festival focusing on dysfunctional families, it is fitting that the final film viewed is The Unpolished, a German ode to parental irresponsibility and childhood accommodation. Stevie, who looks to be about 12, is the most mature and rational member of her brood: her mum takes drugs, Dad's a dealer just released from jail and they move around Europe in pursuit of his business activities.

Stevie's not been to school in ages and the scenes of her parents attempting to enrol her without any documentation are amusing. Eventually, she sends them out of the room in order to reason with the head herself; true to form, she offers the woman a bribe. It's not often one sees a child trying to get INTO school.

Rather than attending school, Stevie spends her days breaking into homes and stealing family photos so that she can paste her and her family's heads over the more conventional poses. Yearning for attention, she attempts to seduce Ingmar, one of her father's many hangers-on. She also befriends the kids next door, wowing them with made-up tales of her exotic past in Brazil. Observing the morning after a night of Bacchanalian excess, which includes adultery, drugs, etc. her neighbour observes drily, "Your parents have a weird ethos." It all ends in tears, the parents go off and Stevie must decide whether to trail in their wake or strike out on her own.

One can only imagine how Hollywood would have depicted the same scenario: either a Home Alone-type gross-out comedy or a shocking drama, ending in tragedy or punishment. Not so in this film. Stevie chides, acts out, and lies when it suits her, but she copes with the situation and eventually makes a decision. It's all presented quite matter-of-factly, no matter how many acceptable boundaries are crossed in this family's life.

No comments: