Germany | 2017 | Directed by Helene Hegemony
Logline: A wayward teenage girl drifts through various relationships and connections in an effort to submerge the emotional trauma of her mother’s passing.
Based on her own novel, Axolotl Roadkill, Hegemony has written and directed a powerful iceberg of a movie, as cool and detached as it is unpredictable and unruly. It has no real plot to speak of, just a series of incidents and encounters in the days and nights of sixteen-year-old Mifti (Jasna Fritzi Bauer) as she copes with the people close to her, each with their own demands. The movie seemingly begins mid-scene and ends in the same abrupt way, the camera loiters and lingers, sometimes as if it is an invisible character itself. There is no moral compass, with the listless fly-on-the-wall narrative perspective this could just as well be a docu-drama.
Mifti lives with her two much older half-siblings, Anika (Laura Tonke) and Edmond (Julius Feldmeier). Occasionally she visits her wealthy father (Bernard Schütz), who languishes in a cavernous post-modern abode. He doesn’t seem too concerned with his daughter’s future, off-handedly inviting her to join him on a trip to Tokyo. Mifti is pre-occupied with forty-something Alice (Arly Jover), whom she is lovers with, but who remains elusive. Mifti hangs out with Ophelia (Marvie Hörbiger), her scatterbrained junkie friend whom she is intimate with, yet clashes with. Ophelia and Mufti trawl the Berlin club and party scene doing drugs and sifting with whomever is up for it. Mifti sometimes wakes up in a forest, sometimes wakes up in a child’s bunkbed. No matter, as long as she has her cigarettes.
Floating with the aloofness of Bret Easton Ellis and anchored with the ennui of Tom DeLillo, Axolotl Overkill moves and feels something Fellini might have made if he was a young contemporary. It’s La Dolce Vita in the jaded modern world, Christiane F. with the nihilism kept in check. While the title appears to be an obscure reference to being trapped in excessive youth, the movie is bracingly fresh, achingly awkward, deliciously sensual; a real cocktail of fervour and affectation.
Hegemony, who is briefly glimpsed as a director filming some production in Ophelia’s apartment, tackles the yearning and heartbreak of adolescence with the emotional complexity and maturity that belies a first time film director. No doubt her background in playwriting and prose has given herinsight into capturing human nature and provided the subtle nuances needed to project for cinema. But she is aided by a sensational performance from her lead, Bauer, the chain-smoking teenage rebel, who was 26 at the time of filming. But wonderful work from the co-stars, Joyer, as the alluring, enigmatic Alice, and Hörbiger, as the jittery, fragile Opheila.
While the soundtrack thunks and bristles to the beats of old school soul and contemporary hip-hop, and throbs and pulsates with the underground grooves of techno and house, the club and party scenes exude an authentic edge. This is the totally modern Berlin, and the city, like the roving voyeuristic camera, becomes a character in itself.
Though Axolotl Overkill is tinged with a sadness, it’s certainly not a depressing or overtly melancholy film. It has a vibrancy and humour which elevates Mufti’s grieving. Her mourning is buried in sensory experience and elements of danger, but despite not really finding connection with her immediate family, she’ll never be alone. We’re seeing just a small part of her coming of age, quite literally, as the movie begins and ends mid-scene. Mifti is a contradiction, an axolotl of sorts, a loner with attitude to burn, yet her heart tucked in her sleeve.