PARIS — Sold by Films Boutique, “L’Animale,” Austrian Katharina Mueckstein’s Berlinale Panorama Special player, kicks in, as does its trailer, with a scene of two motocross bike riders in a quarry. Helmeted, wearing pads, it’s impossible, to know their identity.
The scene sums up the story to come, as Mati, an adolescent high-school girl – one of the bikers – struggles to find and allow others to recognize her authentic identity – social, sexual. The film takes place in a forested part of Austria, where characters are straight-jacketed by a large concern for social standing. In a second scene, with Mati dressed up for her high-school graduation ceremony, her (seemingly) conventional mother encourages her to wear a proper bra.
But Mati’s life is thrown out of kilter when Sebastian, her best friend in her high-school teen bikers’ gang, announces he’s in love with her – as she’s begins to feel a growing attraction to a freewheeling slightly older girl her gang have taunted.
Mueckstein’s second feature, after 2013’s “Talea,” a mother-daughter relationship drama also starring Sophie Stockinger, “L’Animale” is produced by Nikolaus Geyrhalter Filmproduktion and La Banda Film, which Mueckstein co-founded with Flavio Marchetti.
It is film which enunciates its themes far clearer than the characters can their emotions.
“What does it mean: ‘To die and to become’?” a teacher asks, as a class reads Geothe’s “Blissful Yearning.”
“It’s about how you can only be free if you overcome your fear,” answer Mati.
But that’s not easy. Revealing one’s authentic self risks not only social disgrace, but admitting one’s life was built on a lie, and hurting others who, however restricted their worldview, one truly loves. That is as true of Mati’s parents as Mati herself.
“‘L’Animale’ is my personal answer to the question of how free we, as modern people, really are,” Mueckstein said in a director’s statement.
She added: “We want to please and be respected. We are sensitive and are often afraid. However, authenticity requires confrontation, emancipation demands effort, progress needs courage. Individual resistance, the courage to liberate one’s identity and sexuality… is the greatest revolutionary potential in our times.”
Set in an idyllic, semi-built up part of Austria of forest and rolling hills, “L’Animale” shows a society which knows the discourses of modern freedom, but is arcanely afraid to apply them to their own lives.
The film’s title refers to a 1985 song by Italy’s Franco Battiato’s, about the animal inside, which enslaves him to his passions, never gives up, and will never go away.
World premiering at Berlin, “L’Animale” also has a cross-section screening in Generation 14plus. It forms part of the first Panorama selection from Paz Lázaro, illustrating on of the section’s themes this year: “Resistance to machismo.”
“We immediately fell for the fresh take that Katharina Mückstein offers on the different crisis that one encounters all along life,” said Louis Balsan, head of sales & marketing at Films Boutique, “‘L’Animale’ draws a parallel between those emotionally charged pivot moments – teenage, midlife, and allows us to jump in the story through different doors, finally bridging the gap between the coming of age genre and arthouse audience.