Future Frames 2016 Review - Elephant Skin

Future Frames is a platform which highlights new groundbreaking European cinema and the promising young directing talent behind it. The selection of ten outstanding film students and graduates from schools throughout Europe brings the next generation of European filmmakers to the attention of the industry and press during 3 days of events and screenings at this year's Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Cineuropa Shorts will bring our readers reviews of the works of the films selected for this years event

In Elephant Skin (Dir. Rebecca Figenschau, 2016, Norway), the only thing icier than the expressive Norwegian landscapes she features is the strained father-daughter relationship at the centre. A kind of short-form winter pastoral, Elephant Skin follows the struggle between Johanna (Iben Akerlie) and her father (Björn Anderson) over how her son (Nicolay Kofler) should be raised; and in a grander sense, how life should be lived.

In the film’s opening, Johanna takes her son back home to live with his grandfather, both father and daughter having recently separated from their respective partners. Just as Figenschau effectively conveys the closeness of Johanna’s relationship with her son, an intimacy and comfort displayed through looks, gestures and touch; the steeliness between her and her father is immediately palpable. Their mutual distrust seems to have been established through the father’s treatment of his ex-partner, something that Figenschau’s smart, subtle script later confirms to be the case; but it is also intergenerational, his stubborn, distinctly rural Norwegian brand of masculinity running in contrast to her urbanised, progressive lifestyle.

Across a number of sequences involving the father’s insistence on imposing his version of masculinity on the child, this hostility between father and daughter mounts. The boy must learn to gut fish, to not cry when hurt, effectively to suppress any outward display of emotion as his grandfather does. Maintaining a commendable sense of control over proceedings, Figenschau builds the psychological pressure between the family, bouncing their oppositional visions of parenthood against each other until passive aggressive displays give way to a full blown power struggle for the boy’s affections. It is here that Elephant Skin’s feminine voice comes through strongest, undermining the outdated values of masculine society without admonishing her characters or audience.

For the grandfather, the most important thing in life is control, and it seems Figenschau in some way agrees. Elephant Skin is a familiar film and one that never really treads any new ground, and as much of the conflict is internal, a battle of minds rather than fists, the film isn’t all that eventful through its course. Yet, it’s also one that reveals an assured director who is very capable at directing her actors, having them externalise their conflicting emotions without breaking into melodrama. The grandfather’s conclusion about the nature of their struggle is that “in nature only the strongest survive.” Figenschau knows better. It’s all about balance.

Review by Matt Turner, UK

The above review is by one of the journalists from Nisimazine, the scheme from NISI MASA which gives young writers the opportunity to hone their craft whilst experiencing a film festival. You can read this review - and other texts from Karlovy Vary - at http://www.nisimazine.org/

06 July 2016, by Cineuropa Shorts