Oct 15, 2016

24FPS@ LFF 2016: Wild

Dir: Nicolette Krebitz
Over the eight years since I saw her last film, The Heart is a Dark Forest, I have wondered why it has taken such a long time for writer/director Nicolette Krebitz to follow it up. I believe I now have my answer. Wild can not have been an easy film to set up; a challenging, provocative film that seems destined to upset quite a lot of people, it's both a fitting follow up to The Heart is a Dark Forest and one that confirms that film's promise.

Ania (Lilith Stangenburg) is in her early 20's and living something of a lonely life, stuck in an anonymous high rise, working a decent but soul sucking office job and watching her Grandfather slowly waste away in hospital. One day, as she walks to the bus for work, she sees a wolf emerge from the woods near her home and immediately becomes obsessed. Ania begins desperately looking for the wolf, eventually managing to capture the animal, taking it into her home and beginning a relationship of sorts with it.

Krebitz clearly realises her story may strain credulity, she plays with this idea in two distinct but equally effective ways. Firstly, she builds a credible environment for Ania. Her town, her flat, her job, the hospital, the annoying boss who may have a crush on her, all of these things have a drab, grey reality about them. This credibility grounds the story, but it also provides something that we buy in to Ania being desperate to leave behind; a reason why her encounter with the wolf excites her. 

At the same time, Krebitz implies for a while that this encounter with the wolf may be Ania's break with reality in another way. As she embarks on an initially fruitless quest to see the animal again, it's a distinct possibility that Ania has imagined or dreamed the initial encounter. This would be an interesting alternative route for the film to take, but it's all the more shocking when it becomes clear that this is not what's happening, that both Ania's obsession and the object of it are totally real.

The film's grounding is also aided by an exceptional performance from Lilith Stangenburg. Stangenburg carries the film, with it falling ever more on her shoulders as time runs on and she is more frequently the only person on screen. This would have been an easy role to play badly; just pushing the boat out a bit too far could make the scenes between Ania and the wolf risible. Instead, the inheld but detail rich performance Stangenburg gives makes Ania's loneliness and her pain feel raw and visceral and her gradual withdrawl into this clearly dysfunctional way of coping something we can feel for. Beyond the quality of her work, Stangenburg also gives one of the most daring performances I've seen in a long time, often as physically naked as she seems emotionally and frequently interacting uncomfortably closely with what always appears to be a real wolf. This is one of those performances that makes you sit up and take notice of an actor.

Krebitz gives the film's visuals a washed out colour scheme for the most part, but pulls out some truly striking imagery. A funny shot of Ania, dressed in a homemade protective suit, going in to feed the wolf for the first time since bringing it home sticks in the mind, as does a beautiful and meaningful moment at the film's end when Ania and the wolf take different routes down a hill, their separation speaking volumes. There are plenty more images that I'll struggle to shake, but to talk about them would be to spoil some of the film's most divisive content.

Wild is a bold film and Krebitz clearly as bold a filmmaker, but for all the discussion there will be about the film's content in its more troubling moments, this is ultimately a character study. In this respect Wild is a great film, it does it with an unusual character and through an unusual prism, to say the least, but the feelings it explores - grief, loneliness, a desire to escape - are all but universal. I hope it won't take Nicolette Krebitz another nine years to make her next film, she's too interesting for us to have to wait that long.

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