Thursday, 10 November 2011

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The Poll Diaries - GFF 2011

Opinion: B

Chris Kraus rendered us a surrealistic realm where things either seemed too good to be true or too wicked to be desired. Technically pleasing, the film managed to instill stirring moods and quality production values. the other essence was found in the good performance by its cast. Based upon a true story of a renowned German female Poet Oda Schaefer, The Poll Diaries would draw you in for a little less than two hours and convince you deeply that you're either dreaming or time-travelling.

On the eve of World War I, 14-year-old Oda von Siering returns to Poll, her family home on the Baltic coast, a region uneasily shared by Germans, Russians and Estonians. With her are the mortal remains of her mother, who passed away in Berlin. Awaiting the bright and inquisitive girl are her father Ebbo, an eccentric scientist with a dubious interest in racial breeding; her aunt Milla, who flees reality through music and affairs; and other members of her aristocratic German family, who are clinging to their privileges in a world on the brink of disaster. Upon finding a wounded Estonian anarchist on the estate, the passionate, impulsive Oda fearlessly hides him and secretly nurses him back to health, aware that her deed could trigger a chain reaction of uncontrollable violence.

The Poll Diaries hauntingly evokes the end-of-days atmosphere of a doomed society at the crossroads of the German and Russian Empires in the early years of the 20th century. Following his award-winning Four Minutes, director Chris Kraus now presents the masterly portrait of a segment of civilization and humanity sliding into chaos and anarchy.

Featuring good production set design and costumes, the film almost got me thinking that it was all for real. But yet not quite real enough to suggest reality, as the subtleness of the camerawork and lighting instilled surrealistic moods that felt as if it was a different realm in a different time.

Young actress Paula Beer did exceptionally well in her role as the adolescent Schaefer, who waltzed about her whole life as a puppet under her prejudiced and sadistic father (played by Edgar Selge). A father who is a doctor, cuts open the skulls of persecuted ethnicity (Estonians) and collects their brain matter.

What kind of a doctor indulges in such perverse habits?

Casting aside the intense menace rendered by Schaefer's father, the rest of the film was saturated with tenderness and grace in juxtaposition. These were filled in by the lovely scenes of Schaefer and the hiding Estonian Anarchist (played by Tabet Tuisk) whom she named "Schnapps". Emotions and words seemed to exchange effortlessly with little or none conversed verbally between them.

Such emotions evoked in non-verbal scenes could only be possible with a good screenplay by Chris Kraus that was loosely based upon the memoirs of the late Schaefer.

Alas, the film seemed to resembled too much of a dream and lingered one too long in certain scenes with prolonged procrastination that seemed to take forever. Especially with a dire situation set in the background. Certain scenes and sequences seemed to be inserted for poetic purposes as some didn't seem to match up logically.

There's grandeur insertion of a chapter from the 1900's history book that involved the Russians, Germans, and Estonians. It was one where I find myself staring at uncharted territories. The film didn't explore too deeply into that angle and I was grateful for that. The story centred about Schaefer and where she stood within that context.

It seemed like the film adopted a partial poetic narrative structure, which might have explained the grace and tenderness evoked in the audience besides the effective camerawork and luscious cinematography by Daniela Knapp.

A deep film that would bound to trap you in a realm that goes extremely both ends before releasing you to question its plausibility and conclusion as you reenter reality.


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