Shot over a couple of years, the debut film by Dutch director Rosanne Pel will leave its mark on whomever watches it. It is a coming of age film, but not your typical one where prom or dating or getting into college are the focal points. This one has more depth and is at times a tough watch. All worth it in the end, though.
Living in a small rural town in Poland, Eryk (Erik Walny) is 15-years-old and lives with his mother (Ewa Makula) and grandmother. The mother-son relationship is a rather co-dependent one with them being occasionally mistaken for lovers rather than parent-child. Eryk never knew his father and even though he asks Ewa about him on occasion, she never really wants to answer that question it seems.
A rather physically imposing young man, who towers over most everyone, we forget that this large body contains a teenager. He is trying to figure out his way in the world and that includes embarking on his first romantic relationship with neighbour, Klaudia (Klaudia Przybylska). Klaudia is only 13-years-old and though she enjoys spending time with Eryk, is not really prepared for their relationship to become a physical one.
Never having a father figure or an example of a healthy romantic relationship to model himself on, Eryk forces Klaudia into something that she is not ready for and actually tells him she doesn’t want. The teenager does not seem to know the difference between love and brutality. After it happens everything changes. Eryk and Klaudia’s relationship as she begins to pull away. How Eryk sees himself. Suddenly everything Eryk thought he believed in and knew is changing or slipping away.
Our teen years are ones that see most severing the close ties they have with their parents. The young birds are beginning to stretch their wings and assert independence. It is a confusing time for most. Even when they do have good role models. Eryk does not have such luxeries as everyone around him is rather abusive. His mom does not treat him like a son, rather like a friend or partner. Even his friendships often turn to physical confrontations. Eryk does not spend time with people without it becoming abusive in one way or another.
As such he replicates that within his first relationship. To horrible consequences. Eryk wants to make a connection. Wants to love and be loved, but has no idea how to go about this. Many a film has featured a teenage boy fumbling his way through first love. This film brings that in a whole other direction.
Director Rosanne Pel has decided to go against the grain in regards to the coming of age genre. This is not your typical film involving teens. Instead of the usual fast pace and exploding soundtrack, this is a rather measured look at a teenage boy figuring out how the world works and what his place in it is. For a first time director, Pel shows an incredibly steady hand and the ability to allow things to unfold slowly. This is easier said than done as many fall prey to the “let’s liven things up” trap rather than allowing their stories to be told through realistic small moments rather than wham bam thank you ma’am ones.
She also makes an interesting decision when she does not make Eryk a villain. You should hate him after what he does, but you don’t. You feel sorry for him without diminishing the damage of what he has done. You see the moments that can lead up to a violent act by a human upon another. Even one they claim to care about. Without excusing Eryk’s actions you see through Pel’s direction why it might have unfolded the way it did and how she allows for the possibility for redemption. That two young lives are not necessarily ruined.