Friday, May 12, 2017

Panorama Europe ’17: The Erlprince

If “The Boy” is correct, there could be infinite alternate universes, but puberty is probably still miserable for him in each and every one of them. Unfortunately, he will not have time to grow out of it, because the end of the world is nigh. To top it off, he also has mother issues in Kuba Czekaj’s The Erlprince (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Panorama Europe, at MoMI.

The opening sequence deliberates echoes Goethe’s The Erlking, with key differences. The Boy’s oppressively controlling mother is driving through the night to their new digs. Physically he is fine, but emotionally he is far from hale and hearty. The rest of the world isn’t doing very well either. As part of his research into parallel dimensions, the physics prodigy has become convinced doomsday is fast approaching for his current universe.

Into this claustrophobic family unit comes “The Man.” Given his shared history with “The Mother,” he is most likely the Boy’s father, but he has never been allowed to serve in that role until now. His presence is a healthy influence on the boy, but it is probably too late for the prodigy and the world. Eventually, his psyche will shatter, with each shard reflecting a different parallel plane of reality.

Frankly, viewers shouldn’t get too hung up on the narrative arc of Erlprince. Czekaj is more interested in marrying up post-Einstein psychics with darkly fantastical romantic archetypes. Unfortunately, it all probably sounds more mind-blowing than it really is. The first two acts are dominated by teen angst and family dysfunction, whereas the third act largely compares and contrasts the Boy’s various possible Sliding Doors­-esque alternate fates. We see the Boy getting bullied by girls, before his mother comes to his rescue. There are also hints of gender-bending when the Mother adopts a boyish haircut, presumably to fill the Boy’s father figure vacancy (however, making out with the Boy’s homeroom teacher seems to be taking it to dubious extremes).

As the boy prince of physics, Staszek Cywka is a veritable picture of teen neuroses. However, Agnieszka Podsiadlik is an overpowering force to reckon with as the hot mess Mother, like a cross between Terminator’s Sarah Connor and Mommie Dearest’s Joan Crawford. Yes, you can certainly call her domineering.

The ambition of Erlprince is laudable, but it really more of a film to dispassionately analyze than a viewing experience to get swept up in. Still, Adam Palenta’s stylishly severe cinematography perfects suits the film’s cerebral alienation. Czekaj has loads of talent, but Erlprince will be limited in its appeal. Recommended for those who dig postmodern science fiction, it screens tomorrow afternoon (5/13) at MoMI, as part of this year’s Panorama Europe.