A teenage girl on the cusp of adulthood begins to question what she wants out of life in this surprisingly nuanced Austrian drama.
Take a trip down to your local cinema at any given time of the year and you’ll likely trip over a couple of coming-of-age dramas. It’s a narrative thread that continues to prevail in cinema, usually with results not worth writing home about. Every once in a while, a film pops up that manages to wander down this well-trodden path with a new swagger (see: Call Me By Your Name, Raw, Lady Bird). Katharina Mueckstein’s L’Animale is an assured sophomore feature in a similar vein, as wild and unpredictable as adolescence itself.
The story centres on Austrian teenager Mati, who’s a few weeks shy of graduating from high school, and struggling to reconcile her desires with the path set out for her by her mother, who assume Mati will follow in her veterinary footsteps. In a scene particularly reminiscent of Lady Bird, Mati bickers with her mother over a suitable graduation dress – being a tomboy, she dislikes the girly number Mum has picked out for her. In fact, she’s happiest when on her dirt bike with her gang of male mates down at the quarry. Or at least, so she thinks.
A chance meeting with an older girl from a completely different background, teamed with a revelation from her best friend, cause Mati to spiral out of control, reevaluating what’s important to her. Mueckstein does an impressive job of presenting a film about teenagers that really captures the dizzying confusion of a girl on the verge of adulthood, from unpleasant testosterone-driven fights to unglamorous attempts to feel something through recreational drug use. Meanwhile, Mati’s parents battle with their own personal demons, as the narrative diverges and becomes a triptych study in miscommunication and the weight of familial and societal expectations.
There’s also an excellent musical moment undoubtedly inspired by Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, featuring Franco Battiato’s 1985 Italian pop song, L’Animale. It’s a non-sequitur that doesn’t fit at all with the film’s pumping electro-synth soundtrack, but it’s oddly charming all the same, as is the performance given by a cat (named Herbert) who dons a stylish blue bodysuit for most of the movie.
It’s intentionally rough around the edges, mirroring the character of Mati, performed with a teenage perma-scowl by Sophie Stockinger. Yet you feel for Mati too, so at odds with the world she inhabits, brought up in a house where no one talks about their feelings, and everything feels like the Austrian equivalent of Stepford. The plot itself might not bring much new material to the table, but solid performances from the cast teamed with Mueckstein’s fresh-feeling vision are enough to hold one’s interest throughout.
Published 20 Feb 2018
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