I always look forward to the Chicago European Union Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center every year – this one is their 19th annual, and it runs from March 4 – 31.
There are (seemingly) eight million dysfunctional teenagers’ stories in the Naked City… uhmm, I mean World Cinema, and this is one of them. Based on an award-winning novel, Amok by Tullio Forgiarini, Baby(a)lone (Luxembourg, 2015) has been adapted for feature film by director Donato Rotunno, Nicolas Steil and Forgiarini. But lousy parents, lousy educational systems, rampant consumerism and our constant demands for constant stimulus are once again the usual suspects in the case – for all of their earnest efforts, our three screenwriters haven’t succeeded in manifesting whatever internal narratives distinguished the book from its external business-as-usual story.
The film follows a young man (Joshua Defays) from a broken home who is having serious socialization problems – a self-swallowed-up introvert who erupts with abrupt savagery from rare time-to-time, he’s mentored by a generously spirited teacher, Nathalie (Gintare Parulyte), and responds pretty well to more tightly-structured classroom programs. But the boy is then swept away by new-arrival Shirley (Charlotte Elsen), a completely id-driven teenaged cross between Avril Lavigne and Aileen Wuornos. There’s a dubiously-conceived devil-on-my-shoulder friend of the boy’s, there’s the obligatory party scene where 14-year-olds consume enough hard liquor and pharmaceuticals to kill fourteen Hunter S. Thompsons, and we discover that all that these forlornly violent kids really wanna do is road-trip to the big famous amusement park. It’s nonetheless a compelling story while you’re in it, with some gasp-inducing moments of effrontery, and Rotunno and veteran cinematographer Jako Raybaut bring a decisively strong visual strategy to the technical proceedings. But the hip-shot psychology is scattered and unfocused, and never really rises above the level of a fair Criminal Minds episode. Rotunno is a capable and earnest filmmaker who will go on to bigger and better things, and he’s a good ambassador for the burgeoning Luxembourgian film industry (this is one of the rare films actually spoken in Luxembourgish). But I have trouble recommending this one outright.
“Baby(a)lone” screens on Tuesday, March 8th at 6:15 pm and Thursday, March 10th at 8:15 pm.