Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tribeca ’10: My Queen Karo

Karo’s childhood was a time for juvenile indulgence, running naked, throwing tantrums, and generally avoiding responsibility. Actually, that was her father, Raven, a New Left activist from Belgium who believed the Netherlands owed him a free squat, just because. Living in his free loving squatter’s world might have had advantages, but it caused predictable tensions for her parents’ marriage in Dorothée van den Berghe’s coming of age drama My Queen Karo (trailer here), which has its New York premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Karo is a bright little girl, but her environment is chaotic. At first the share-and-share a like ethos of their communal squat-loft seems idyllic, but it quickly becomes clear Raven extends the concept to sexual relations. Meeting the fiery Alice at a near riot, he invites the radical to move into the squat, completely losing interest in his wife Dalia.

Needless to say, this creates a confusing situation for Karo. She instinctively feels solidarity for her mother, but the new arrangement also brings Karo her first crush, Alice’s son Daniel. When the frustrated landlord cuts off their water, Raven responds with demonstrations and revolutionary rhetoric. However, for the sake of her child, Dalia begins paying the rent on the sly, in a serious breach of their ideological protocol.

Queen can be a frustrating movie, because it clearly illustrates the gross irresponsibility of Raven’s self-serving ideals, yet it still suggests there is something cool about him. It might not be flashy, but stability is usually better for raising psychologically stable children. Indeed, recent documentaries like Doug Pray’s Surfwise suggest such unconventional upbringings often lead to long-term emotional issues for the grown children.

Still, Queen is quite a handsome production, thanks to the soft, effervescent cinematography of Jan Vancaillie. It evocatively recreates 1974 Amsterdam, while admittedly minimizing the squalor of the times. Best of all, the jazz soundtrack composed by Peter Vermeersch, leader of the avant-garde big band Flat Earth Society, adds a distinctive character to the film. Though it swings solidly, there is also a searching outside quality (in the spirit of Albert Ayler) that is both appropriate to the period, yet still sounds fresh.

Anna Franziska Jager is a genuinely talented young actress, far more expressive than many of her peers. Deborah Francois is reasonably compelling as her somewhat underwritten mother Dalia, the part that got the short end of the screenplay. However, Mattias Schoenaerts is unable to find any charm in the highly problematic Raven.

Queen nicely captures the chaos of an era from a child’s bewildered perspective and Vermeersch’s score sounds fantastic. However, it suffers from the same inability to make coherent judgments that marked the times and ideology it depicts. Interesting but not essential, it screens during the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday (4/22), Friday (4/23), Friday (4/30), and Saturday (5/1).