Dallas IFF: Monday (4/12) – ‘My Queen Karo’

Following a winning weekend of films, DIFF charges ahead with new entries and second screenings of many seen in the last few days.  My goal will be to provide commentary on at least one outstanding film a day…I can’t promise just one, and I can’t promise outstanding either, actually, but we’re getting off to a great start:

My Queen Karo is about a young girl’s experiences living with squatters in 1974 Amsterdam.  Karo (Anna Franziska Jaeger) has been taught to believe in sharing everything, but as she settles into a new building with her free-love-espousing, revolutionary father Raven (Matthias Schoenaerts) and more compromising mother Dalia (Deborah Francois), she learns that the problem with anything free is that eventually you lose appreciation for it.  Karo appears to be 10 or 12 years old, and the film is told from her perspective as she observes all of the adult interactions – good and bad –  around her, and must decipher what they mean and who to follow, or emulate.

A sense of merriment is strong as the extended family moves into an abandoned building, but something uneasy lies just below the surface.  Nothing can belong to any one person; there can be no walls or private rooms (“You like being in a cage?”).  When Raven brings home fellow revolutionary Alice, he ends up spending more time in her bed than with Dalia, yet chastises Dalia for becoming jealous.

Seen through the young girl’s eyes, these relationships are confusing, and only Jacky, a nice prostitute who lives downstairs, can be the common sense friend the girl needs.   Jacky pays for swimming lessons, allowing Karo to have a daily, regimented activity;  her regular schooling is severely lacking any form of discipline or control.  At home, Karo tries to keep her pet hemmed into a small space, as it is the only way she can exert control in a microcosm that allows none.

With each swimming lesson, Karo gets better by a few seconds;  Raven disagrees with measurements, so each time we ‘re left to wonder if Karo’s improvements are a way of defying her father, or just a source of pleasure and achievement.

Dorothee Van Den Berghe directs the film beautifully, maintaining the child’s-eye view of all actions and choices, and with her questioning eyes and perpetually stooped shoulders, Jaeger makes Karo seem as if she is carrying the weight of everyone on her back, though uncertain as to why.

There are hazy, gorgeous colors to be found, and intimate acts taking place in the shadows.  My Queen Karo can sometimes feel more than a little bit disturbing, with children surrounded by adults having sex and experimenting with each other (nothing is shown between children, though you get the impression their connections were far more loving than the adults’).

My Queen Karo is a terrific film.  It will be shown a second time on Wednesday, April 14th.