Unsure how to control her burgeoning sexuality, a teen determines to make life hell for her wine-making father in Katalin Godros' ill-conceived family drama.

Unsure how to control her burgeoning sexuality, a teen determines to make life hell for her wine-making father in Katalin Godros’ ill-conceived family drama, “Songs of Love and Hate.” Pic marks a frustrating viewing experience, containing elements of a potent chamber potboiler rich in atmosphere and suggestive psychology, but hobbled by unsatisfying casting, poor dramatic choices and a third act that jumps the rails. A surprisingly prestigious fest run (though generally ignored in its Locarno preem) won’t translate to more than local biz.

Just prior to harvest season, eldest daughter Lilli (Sarah Horvath) notices that dad Rico (a perpetually grouchy-looking Jereon Willems) is looking at her slightly differently, as if he were sexually attracted. Rico never makes a physical gesture in this direction, and yet his nervous behavior around her only contributes to the tension. It hardly helps that family dog Prinz seems to now get all hot and bothered around the blossoming Lilli.

Caught in the middle of this is Lilli’s clueless b.f. Fabio (Joel Basman), who simply wants to do the nasty with her. Lilli is forever confused, of course, encouraging him one moment and angrily pushing him away the next. Younger sis Roberta (Louisa Sappelt) observes all this with a bit of young adolescent amusement, while getting up close and personal with youthful lesbian pal Ronny (Mira Elisa Goeres).

The start-stop-start scenario by Godros, Lars Theuerkauff and Dagmar Gabler constructs dramatic moments to show Lilli’s strange behavior that fail to create much momentum, and are so odd and lacking in credibility that they draw unnecessary attention to themselves.

For instance, Lilli seems to deliberately toss a stick for Prinz to fetch directly into a roaring creek during a strong rain storm — knowing full well not only that the beloved family dog would drown, but also that the act would enrage Rico, who is a witness. A later scene shows what looks to be Lilli pushing Fabio off a hilltop when she sees her dad watching her.

The film sets up such primal conflicts and moments — more contrived than ringing of truth — without knowing quite how to develop them into something memorable or resonant. A poorly developed affair between Rico’s wife, Anna (Ursina Lardi), and a worker isn’t enough to amp the drama, and simply plays like another melodramatic layer inserted for effect. Crucially, Godros isn’t able to coax more than basic reactions out of his rather uninspired actors.

The filmmaking package is wrapped in a realist style that’s not particularly noteworthy, though d.p. Henner Besuch’s handheld camera serves like an observer of a family’s dissolution. Despite its German-language Swiss setting, the film goes purely by its English title.

Songs of Love and Hate

Switzerland

Production

A Filmcoopi Zurich release of a Cobra Film presentation. (International sales: Cobra Film, Zurich.) Produced by Susann Rudlinger. Directed by Katalin Godros. Screenplay, Godros, Lars Theuerkauff, Dagmar Gabler.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Henner Besuch; editor, Silke Botsch; music, Peter von Siebenthal; production designer, Sue Erdt; costume designer, Linda Harper; sound (Dolby Digital), Ingrid Stadeli; line producer, Christos Dervenis; assistant director, Florian Engelhardt; casting, Susan Muller. Reviewed at Palm Springs Film Festival, Jan. 13, 2011. (Also in Locarno Film Festival -- competing; Rotterdam Film Festival -- Spectrum; Valladolid, Cairo film festivals.) Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Jereon Willems, Sarah Horvath, Ursina Lardi, Louisa Sappelt, Joel Basman, Mira Elisa Goeres. (German dialogue)

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