Review: Of Fish and Men
- Stefanie Klemm’s first feature film is a sensitive and poetic portrayal of the torments suffered by two characters struggling to come to terms with a crushing tragedy
Director, writer and producer Stefanie Klemm is presenting her astonishing debut feature film Of Fish and Men [+see also:
film profile] at Solothurn Film Days. In the running for two prizes - the Audience Award and the First Work Award – and previously presented at the Chicago International Film Festival as well as Saarbrücken’s Max Ophüls Film Festival, the movie speaks of the suffering of a mother who has lost her daughter in tragic circumstances, but also that of a man who’s forced to face the ghosts of his past: two seemingly distant characters fatally united in their pain.
Judith (played by the mysterious yet radiant Sarah Spale, the drug addicted mother of Pierre Monnard’s Needle Park Baby [+see also:
film profile]) runs a small-scale trout farm in a secluded valley nestled in the Jura mountains (in the village of Seehof, to be specific). It’s exhausting work and the days feel never-ending. Judith is raising her daughter Milla on her own, a curious and creative child who’s full of life and who knows the nature around them better than anyone. Standing alongside the mother-daughter duo we find Gabriel, Judith’s devoted assistant who is looking to rebuild a life for himself following his release from prison. Despite leading what appear to be radically different lives, Judith, Milla and Gabriel seem to have found their own equilibrium based on a level of mutual affection which only increases with time. A tragic event, however, destroys this nigh-on idyllic picture in brutal and unexpected fashion, tearing the daughter away from her mother in just a matter of minutes. The only person Judith believes she can count on for support is Gabriel but, unfortunately, owing to his direct involvement in Milla’s death, he is unable to fulfil this role. What consequences can a secret which gnaws away inside of us have? Is it possible to imagine a future for ourselves when we’re eaten away by guilt? Gabriel is forced to ask himself these nagging questions while Judith, consumed by shock and paralysed by her daughter’s death, digs deep to find the strength to carry on.
As stated by the director herself, Of Fish and Men was born out of a tragic event she herself experienced as the victim of a violent mugging in a petrol station. The trauma caused by this brutal act drove her to keep a diary in which she confided the feelings she experienced, feelings which are often difficult to process, such as the desire for revenge and anger, which she couldn’t express verbally. Klemm decided to turn this tragic experience into a film, treating it as an unexpected opportunity to transform pain into creativity and trauma into poetry.
Milla’s death binds Judith and Gabriel together forever, a twist of fate fuelled by suffering and incomprehension. Both are forced to come to terms with the child’s passing, albeit in vastly different ways: in Judith’s case, Milla’s death becomes an unacceptable event which she hopes to cancel out through revenge, while for Gabriel, the girl’s death is nothing but the tragic outcome of a cruel accident for which he inevitably feels responsible. The protagonists in Of Fish and Men take refuge in a self-imposed silence whereby nature speaks in their place: magnificent shots of the canton of Jura become metaphors for the characters’ inner worlds, the only language capable of expressing their most deeply felt emotions. And later, in one final, touching scene, a heron - the living embodiment of Milla’s spirit - pays Judith an unexpected visit, as if wanting to remind her that life goes on, in spite of it all.
(Translated from Italian)
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