At 14 years old, Stevie should be at school or hanging out with kids her age, instead – having reunited with her druggie father (Turkish-German actor Birol Ünel) after his release from prison – she spends her days engaged in petty crime and time-wasting. Shacking up in a large house in rural Germany, her family attracts a ménage of hangers-on and free-spirited hippies, none of whom want to grow up or take responsibility.
In a world of instability Stevie is left to her own devices, discovering her own voice and sexuality, and growing in a way her parents always refused to.
http://european-films.net/content/view/581/118/A young girl tries to survive the ongoing chaos of her parents’ life and the unknown in Pia Marais’ debut feature Die Unerzogenen (The Unpolished), which is part of the Tiger Competition here at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Initially coming across as an Oskar Roehler script as directed by Lukas Moodysson, the film eventually finds its own voice but remains too focused on illustrating the mess the adults have created to make much impact as a character study of the child or even as a more general meditation on the post-hippy generation. Also because of numerous scenes of gratuitous nudity, the film will probably be confined to German-language arthouses, scattered festival dates and TV sales.
During the press screening of Die Unerzogenen, my succinct notes read: “bad memories as tableaux vivants from a neo-hippy child”. In the press notes, the film’s story is described as being inspired by the chaos in the life of the South Africa-born director, and more particularly the chaos created by her hippy parents. Marais, who co-wrote the film with regular collaborator Horst Markgraf, puts the first-hand experiences of this chaos to good use in the film, and the household portrayed in Die Unerzogenen has the ring of truth. This does not automatically mean that it makes for a good film however, and with none of the characters particularly standing out or a clear purpose for telling this particular story, the film is almost just as messy as the lives of the characters it portrays.
Father Axel (Birol Ünel, from Gegen die Wand/Head-on) has just been released from jail and mother Lily (Pascale Schiller) and their precocious 14-year-old Stevie (Céci Chuh) are travelling to meet him. What Stevie does not know yet is that they will not return to Portugal but instead settle with their father and an ever-changing group of hangers-on in a small German town. At least, if he will show up. Uncertainty and carelessness seem to be the key words in their lives. Ünel displays the right mix of tenderness and that kick-ass, slightly criminal attitude that has served him well in his most famous roles and Schiller is equally up to the task with her portrayal of a mother whose only plan for the future seems to be to keep on breathing and who seems to think that an interest in her daughter is an optional feature that should be exercised in small doses.
It falls on the shoulders of the young Chuh to indicate to the audience what she makes of her parents’ carelessness and how it influences her teenage life -- that would already be messy enough without the added problem of her parents -- but here the script and Marais’s direction let her down. Stevie is never given much of a character arc, essentially remaining frozen in the same state for the entire film while for any normal girl of her age and especially one surrounded with adults and other children as portrayed here would grow and learn every day.
Marais and talented Argentinean cinematographer Diego Martinez Vignatti (who filmed Carlos Reygadas's features) work well together and colour the film with a Moodysson-inspired sense of realism bathed in the warm colours of summer. A few key scenes stand out for their mise-en-scene, including the wonderfully conceived opening sequence and a later sequence in which Lily tries to call to Brazil in front of Stevie’s potential friends of her own age. What the exact impact of these events is on Stevie, either at those moments or later in life, never fully emerges and this is a shame because it might have been the only way to set Die Unerzogenen apart from countless other meandering hippy or post-hippy generation portraits.