Normal

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Adele Tulli

Starring

N/A

Anticipation.

Plucked from the Berlin Film Festival’s vaunted Forum strand.

Enjoyment.

Intriguing initially, but becomes more and more repetitive and obscure.

In Retrospect.

Moralistic and lacking in any clear insight.

This short documentary essay critiques enforced gender roles in Italy, but is very snobby in doing so.

Gender is a prison says Adele Tulli’s lightly experimental documentary mosaic, Normal. Yet it’s a prison with some fairly lax security. The film posits that, from our earliest days, we’re saddled with a set of expectations that we absolutely must adhere to in order to fit into society at large. Italy is dragged in as a case study, though it’s hard to say whether Tulli intends this as a broader study of the social strictures and confines that come with our sex, and the contradictions that can be thrown up when questioning these roles.

It is, unfortunately, a film which says everything it needs to in its brilliant opening sequence in which a young girl has her ears pierced by an unseen elderly man while, off camera, her mother praises the fact that now she can look exactly like her. The girl is being forced to conform to conservative beauty standards while also embracing the aesthetic assumptions linked with her gender. She is pointed down a long and winding one-way path at a tender age, and there’s only one direction she can walk.

The scenes then switch back and forth between boys and girls, as a father-son camping trip turns into a motor-racing pep talk. Then we move to young bobbysoxers loitering outside a hotel in order to clap eyes on some teen idol tossing down little relics. They begin to weep as he pecks them on the cheek for the camera. We move swiftly through all manner of gendered scenarios, from an alpha male dating conference to wedding troubleshooters to toymakers to beauty pageants to bizarre Hell’s Angels rallies in which children stand and watch live erotic floorshows.

Even though this runs barely over an hour, its thesis becomes more indistinct and fuzzy with each new sequence. The choice of subjects suggests that Tulli is not entirely sincere or objective in her anthropological mission, and there’s a sense she wants us to despair at the state of modern youth. She sits at an artful remove and mocks the uncultured masses who are too afraid or ignorant to break free from their pre-mapped destiny. She watches people with cold eyes, and emphasises a sense of wastefulness and poor taste. A coda, which frames homosexuality – or at least sexual enlightenment – as something exotic and radical, feels badly misjudged.

Published 27 Sep 2019

Tags: Adele Tulli

Anticipation.

Plucked from the Berlin Film Festival’s vaunted Forum strand.

Enjoyment.

Intriguing initially, but becomes more and more repetitive and obscure.

In Retrospect.

Moralistic and lacking in any clear insight.

Related Reviews

Honeyland

By Lillian Crawford

An artful study of culture, poverty and ecology which focuses on an unlikely Macedonian bee keeper.

review

Our Time

By David Jenkins

Mexican maverick Carlos Reygadas directs and stars in this lyrical, unconventional relationship drama.

review LWLies Recommends

Female Human Animal

By Hannah Clugston

Set in the contemporary art-world, Josh Appignanesi’s hybrid documentary offers a mesmerising blend of fact and fiction.

review LWLies Recommends

What are you looking for?

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.

Editorial

Design