KVIFF Review: 'Axolotl Overkill' is Youthful Berlin Craziness at its Best
by Alex Billington
July 7, 2017
What is like to grow up as a teen without any limits in modern Berlin? Axolotl Overkill shows us exactly what that life is like, and it's as wild and crazy and totally nonchalant as you might expect. Adapted from a book by Helene Hegemann, Axolotl Overkill follows 16-year-old Mifti around Berlin, as she goes to clubs and parties, drinking and smoking and doing drugs, sleeping wherever, and whenever, with whomever she wants. The film is written and directed by Helene Hegemann, adapting her own novel, and stars German native Jasna Fritzi Bauer as the carefree teen. As aimless as the film is, I couldn't help find it thoroughly engaging and impressively entertaining. Not all of it makes sense, but then again, neither does life anyway.
Axolotl Overkill is about Mifti, who is self-diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after the death of her mother, with whom she was very close to. She surrounds herself with a very weird, but colorful mix of people - including her half-siblings, their rich, self-involved father, and her junkie friend Ophelia. Drifting around Berlin's club scenes and various streets, the film is a profile of what life is like in Berlin when you're a teenager who has no cares or concerns or goals or direction in life. Other than to enjoy life, have a fun time always, party whenever possible, and hang out with cool (but not too cool) people. Jasna Fritzi Bauer pulls off her transformative performance as Mifti with as much ease and attitude as she does getting into parties. There were a few times I felt uncomfortable believing this girl is actually supposed to be only 16 years old.
As much as I enjoyed watching this film, I still don't even know what the story is really about or what the entire point of it is. What is it trying to say? On one hand, based on the way it ends, it's hinting that if you live this life forever you will never grow up and will always end up stuck in places without any way to get home. The title Axolotl Overkill is a reference to the animal known as an "axolotl", a Mexican salamander that never grows out of its fish-like young appearance, keeping gills throughout its entire life. Hence the point that if everyone around you ("overkill") is like this, you'll never learn to grow up. On the other hand, there seems to be a good lesson about enjoying the excesses of life without overthinking anything tucked in here somewhere. There's something freeing about living a carefree life without others telling you what to do.
I don't usually fall for films that seem so aimless, but there's an undeniable charm to this one that makes it so entertaining. There's a scene in the second half where a penguin runs around one of the apartments that Mifti lives in. There is no explanation, and the penguin never shows up in any other scenes. Despite this confusing choice, I was laughing during this scene anyway, mostly because I realized perhaps that's how life works. Sometimes there's a penguin running around your apartment and you don't know why. Eventually, maybe, you need to grow up, but for now, why not enjoy it. Top this off with some great music and unique performances, and you've got a film that is enjoyable especially if you've forgotten what it's like to be a teen.
Alex's Karlovy Vary 2017 Rating: 9 out of 10
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