Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sundance with Abe: Axolotl Overkill

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the fourth time. I’ll be seeing as many movies as I can and offering reviews throughout the week.

Axolotl Overkill
Directed by Helene Hegemann
World Cinema Dramatic Competition

There’s a certain innocence and sense of anything being achievable that comes with youth, and an attempt to do less than innocent things and conquer obstacles can provide a marvelous window into possibility and also deliver enormous disappointment. The cleverly-titled “Axolotl Overkill” comes from twenty-four-year-old German director Helene Hegemann, adapting her own novel, which she penned at age seventeen, and tells the story of Mifti, a sixteen-year-old girl living far outside the usual confines of a teenager’s life. Both the film and Mifti are gloriously layered and fascinating, defined by a unique energy that drives Mifti as she tries to live as an adult without a true knowledge of the world.

Mifti (Jasna Fritzi Bauer) is not a happy teenager. Her mother has just died, her father pays little attention to anyone other than his latest interest, and she has no desire to associate with any of her half-siblings. She prefers instead to spend time with older people, both men and women, wielding her sexuality as a weapon and latching on to the drastically different lifestyles that they live. Ophelia (Mavie Horbiger) and Alice (Arly Jover) are two such influences who find themselves entranced by Mifti and become objects of her obsession as they reciprocate with passion and by showing her what a lack of boundaries looks like.

There are a number of scenes in “Axolotl Overkill” that are scored by loud musical tracks. Some take place in nightclubs and others in more private settings, but the immutable noise serves as an effective representation of how Mifti is navigating through life, recklessly and without thought to the greater consequences of her actions. It also works as a stirring showcase of how deeply Mifti is immersing herself in each experience, letting of everything else and committing to the entrancing, engulfing completeness of that moment and feeling.

As if Hegemann’s writing and direction wasn’t strong enough, she has found a tremendous asset in lead actress and breakout star Bauer, who has the angsty teenager archetype down but takes it much further to create a believable and magnetic portrait of someone acting out for reasons other than the attention. Bauer carries the film with the help of more established actresses like Horbiger and Jover, and it’s hard to find a dull moment in this unfiltered, uncensored look at what teenage rebellion really looks like as shown through one girl’s experiences in present-day Berlin.

“Axolotl Overkill” has screenings coming up tonight, Sunday, January 22nd, at 9:45pm at the Broadway Centre Cinema 3, Salt Lake City, Wednesday, January 25th at 12:00pm at the Temple Theatre, Park City, and Friday, January 27th at 11:45pm at the Egyptian Theatre, Park City.


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