By Mónica Delgado
Gerda obtained recognition for her protagonist as best actress and Luzifer caused expectation because it arrived with the patronage of Ulrich Seidl. Both works of young filmmakers seen in the international competition of the Locarno festival, are in line with the type of films that attract the attention of some programmers, based on their stories, which could be considered as striking in these events: a teenager as pole dancer while studying and taking care of her mother during the day, or a strange and fanatic family that lives isolated from the world. Beyond the gimmicky synopses, we were faced with irregular films, which left us with some unease.
The second fiction film by Russian filmmaker Natalya Kudryashova, Gerda, is narrated under the coming of age codes and with a slight déjà vu to other works where young people live a double life. However, beyond the social realism of works such as Lilja 4-ever (2002), what interests Kudryashova is to elaborate a portrait of a character from a psychological and dreamlike logic: some inserts that break with reality and submerge us into a dreamy logic that tries to explain the interiority of the protagonist. Lera (the award-winning Anastasiya Krasovskaya), is a Sociology student who lives with her depressed mother and takes care of her from the attacks of her violent ex-husband, a policeman who arrives drunk to harass them. On the other hand, she works in a nightclub together with other nudist women, with whom she gradually generates a sense of community (the first scenes show the hostility with which Lera -called Gerda- is treated in this nightclub). However, the plot becomes more complicated with the insertion of several subplots that in some cases seem unnecessary: ??Lera also does census-type surveys for a university volunteer, which is why we see her in several scenes entering strangers’ houses, or she also frequents a group of young artists and is attracted to one of them.
Far from the spirit of films like Jeune & Jolie (2014) by François Ozon, where we also see a teenage girl who has a sex job, here the Russian filmmaker rather tries to place her protagonist in a kind of challenge and see how she gets out of it, + supported in a ghostly performance by Anastasiya Krasovskaya, either saving his unconscious dance partner in the middle of a group of clients in a luxury hotel, accepting the proposals of a regular voyeurist, dancing to the same song over and over again due to an exploiting boss, or helping to seal doors and windows to avoid bad ideas to enter for his mother in crisis. Situations also seasoned with some flashbacks (like the sequence that opens the film) or with recreations of some dreams with marine aesthetics. Too much dispersion for a film that could’ve been able to focus on what it promised: an approach to a female character building her own strengths in a suffocating Russia.
Luzifer is Peter Brunner’s third work, and a proposal close to the influence of his previous works: genre devices to delve into characters immersed in situations that make them confront their beliefs, although here marked by an idea of ??modernity or progress. Franz Rogowski, a well-known German actor, the protagonist of several Christian Petzold films, is here a young man with mental problems dependent on a fanatic mother (the actress Susanne Jensen in her debut -a shepherd in real life) who has modeled him after a particular religious imaginary.
Johannes (Rogowski) and his mother are shown in an arcadian daily life, where they follow rites of worship to the gods of nature. The Lucifer of the title appears suggested as an entelechy, perhaps out of field, or perhaps in every action carried out by the characters, in a filial relationship that borders on the incestuous or the giant admiration of a son towards his mother, the only person with whom he lives for miles around. And so the most valuable component appears in this staging by Brunner: the landscape as a modeler of the relationships between the characters, lost in immenseness. Two characters living alone in an alpine forest, far from the toxicities of communities or cities, and being hermits in every sense of the word. This distance is perceived by the viewer as problematic, since little by little we are getting to know the causes of this distance, as well as delving into the variants of this cult, which also looks very physical, from dances to puk rhythms, from baths as a baptism, prayers before a carved tree with a carved virgin inside.
The best moments of Luzifer are in their first minutes, in the presentation of both characters, in their strange family bond and in the ambiguity of their interactions, in the close shots that show us a mother in her nakedness, shaved head, in her asceticism that speaks of a past that must be purged. However, the arrival of “civilization”, materialized in the incursion of a band of drones from a nearby sawmill, and the future arrival of some thugs who want to buy that land by force, return the initial religious struggle (of healings and expiations) in a war before the arrival of progress. What seemed like the development of two alienated characters, in their exacerbated devotions to the deity, is becoming an environmental dispute, and perhaps this allows the analogy or easy opposition: resistance against imposition, peace versus violence, love of nature versus the arrival of the machine.
Based on real events (at least with that quote the film begins), Luzifer, produced by Ulrich Seidl, is an experience worth confronting, be it for the way in which Brunner designs the female character, from its physical brutality or textures the passage of time, as well as the versatility of Rogowski, one of the most interesting actors in today’s German cinema.
Director: Natalya Kudryashova
Photography: Vasiliy Grigolyunas
Editing: Sergey Tikhnenko, Sergey Ivanov
Producers: Dimitry Davidenko, Rafael Minasbekyan, Vadim Vereshagin
Cast: Anastasiya Krasovskaya, Yura Borisov, Yulia Marchenko, Darius Gumauskas
Russia, 2021, 111 min.
Director and screenwriter: Peter Brunner
Cast: Franz Rogowski, Susanne Jensen
Producer: Ulrich Seidl
Music: Tim Hecker
Austria, 2021, 103 min.