Berlinale 2018: Fresh Filmmaking in Katharina Mückstein's 'L'Animale'
by Alex Billington
February 25, 2018
It's exciting to stumble across a film late in the festival that turns out to be one of my favorites. L'Animale is an Austrian film playing at the Berlin Film Festival, the second feature film written & directed by Austrian filmmaker Katharina Mückstein. The film focuses on a teenage girl named Mati, who is wrapping up her last few weeks at high school just before taking the final exam and figuring out what's next. L'Animale is mostly a coming-of-age story about this young woman recognizing her sexuality and accepting it, while also realizing she needs to grow up. In addition, it's a much more deeper, meaningful film about honesty and fear and passion, and how so many struggle to speak their mind. Fresh filmmaking makes this really stand out.
L'Animale stars Sophie Stockinger as Mati, an intelligent and sensitive but rebellious high schooler who spends more time hanging out with a group of careless, misogynistic boys than any other other women. This makes sense as we learn she's gay but still doesn't want to admit it, mostly because she'll be bullied by all of her friends. She starts to fall for another woman in town, Carla played by Julia Franz Richter, and begins to accept her sexuality as they get closer. Meanwhile, her veterinarian mother discovers that her husband is actually secretly closeted as well, and everything starts to fall apart. Everyone breaks down as they continue to learn about themselves. This isn't exactly a brand new story, we've seen similar stories before in various films, but the storytelling is so fresh and engaging it makes this film feel unique and so enjoyable to watch.
The one-line synopsis for L'Animale says it's "about the contradictory forces that guide our lives: desire, passion, and reason." That is indeed the case, as the film follows a handful of people in town struggling with relationships and connection and following their hearts. Every main character has a big problem with being honest and really saying how they feel, none of them can do this. Even with the closest people in their lives, they all fail to at discussing what's really going on. As frustrating as this is to watch, since there isn't a single person who does speak up, this seems to be the point of the film. It's very hard to do this, to be honest and say what's on your mind, and there's a few moments where the film overtly points out how challenging it is to take risks and live life to the fullest, without settling for the expected. It's all to remind us to try, at least.
I'm now a very big fan of director Katharina Mückstein (she also made Talea in 2013). I have a feeling she's going to go on to make some phenomenal films. L'Animale showcases her talent, as well as her potential for even better work. Her vivacious style and inspired choices throughout make this film memorable and moving, from the soundtrack and music (techno galore), to the screenplay and dialogue. She gives all of the characters a chance to establish themselves honestly, yet never let's the film fall out of balance or lose focus. We can feel their emotions and understand their thoughts even if they don't always say them. It also never hits too hard with any ideas about life or honesty, letting the intimate moments and realizations they each have speak for them. Even if they speak softly, they're subtly worked in, a testament to Mückstein's talent.
This film seriously impressed me and made me happy, especially as a film festival discovery. I could feel the rollercoaster of emotions, and I was happy to go along for the ride. At certain times, I was frustrated that the characters were making such poor choices. Why?! But then I felt relieved when they finally came around and started following their gut, even if they could never fully speak about what they felt. Or why they did what they did, or responded the way they did. But we all know humans are complicated, there's so much going on in our minds, beneath the surface. And it's so refreshing to see a film recognize this complexity. And I hope this film inspires viewers to take more risks, and overcome their fears, to live the honest life they truly want.
Alex's Berlinale 2018 Rating: 9 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing