A mentally disabled 18-year-old clashes with her parents after discovering sex in the arms of a creep in Stina Werenfels’ faintly ludicrous “Dora or the Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents.” Though it’s always good to shake audiences up, and the combination of intercourse and impairment certainly fits the bill, the pic sidelines the more interesting daughter-parent relationship while doing little to make the daughter-lover pairing remotely believable. Quebec’s “Gabrielle,” starring an actress with genuine developmental challenges, was soppier but also handled the issue in a far more natural manner. Release outside home countries is unlikely.
From the start, auds will be divided over the off-kilter lensing, which mixes shallow focal lengths, intense closeups and phantasmagoric p.o.v. shots with more traditional visuals. It’s especially overused at the start, but at least there’s a reason since Dora (newcomer Victoria Schulz) is doped up on major meds. Mom Kristin (Jenny Schily) decides it’s time to see what her daughter is really like, so without consulting hubby Felix (Urs Jucker), she has the doctors take her off the drugs.
Why would a young woman with the intellectual age of a child be continuously drugged into a stupor? Maybe the play explained that better — or bothered to explain it at all, unlike the film. Once Dora is able to function, she starts noticing things, like Mom giving Dad a handjob. She also notices her body can feel good when touched in certain places: During bathtime, as Kristin reads her a children’s story, Dora starts fingering herself. Now that she’s no longer catatonic, the world is looking pretty good until she’s verbally taunted by kids. “Am I handicapped?” she asks Mom. “You’re different” is the response, to which Dora wails, “I don’t want to be handicapped!” Isn’t it a bit late for this conversation, or has Dora been drugged from toddler stage?
Seeing so many couples around her, Dora wants what they have, so when she spies supercilious perfume salesman Peter (Lars Eidinger), she follows him into a toilet, resulting in the usual anatomically improbable but cinematically de rigueur unlubed-sodomy scene. Mom learns what happens and reports it as rape, yet for Dora, who’s new to erotic pleasures and incapable of understanding that sex is usually best when your partner actually likes you, the experience was great.
When she gets pregnant, Dora is gung-ho on keeping the baby, but her parents pressure her into an abortion. For Kristin and Felix, Dora’s fecundity feels like a cruel slap since they’ve been unsuccessfully trying to have another child for ages (since when is infertility equated with sexual neuroses, or does the film’s title refer to something not seen onscreen?). Careful not to condemn their daughter’s behavior, they vainly try to get her on contraceptives, and attempt to reason with Peter, though the guy is a total prick.
Werenfels’ frank depiction of sexuality isn’t the problem — indeed, it’s laudatory to insist on carnal self-determination, though her painstakingly nonjudgmental approach regarding Dora’s desire to have a baby tips into absurdity, the odd combination of childish naivete and matter-of-fact tone giving everything a ridiculous air. In addition, what exactly is Dora’s disorder? At one point she’s grouped with people who have Down syndrome, yet the sight of Schulz imitating their physical movements practically borders on parody, notwithstanding the fledgling actress’ undeniable talent and good will.
Kristin’s frustrations form a subtheme that deserves far greater development (Schily is the best thing here), and certainly shouldn’t be capped by the truly preposterous scene toward the end. Equally underdeveloped is the tension between Kristin and Felix, which is far more interesting than Dora’s fixation on Peter. The quasi-lurid p.o.v. scenes, using distorting lenses, are meant to capture Dora’s differently focused outlook; some may find the device adds an extra layer to the character, though most will find it wearying.