QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM TALLINN
A slender young man grows up in an isolated flat under the instruction of an authoritarian mother-figure. The standardised and clinical apartment is visited by the pale light of a cloudy outside world. Cold and austere, the rooms give off an impression of hard-edged severity, tightly fitting the 4:3 aspect ratio which constricts our views into the protagonists’ world. The flat is part of a mass-produced tower block reminiscent of the setting of Kieslowski’s Dekalog. We learn that the young man is a juvenile delinquent, sent away to be re-educated by a special instructor played by ballet-dancer turned actress Agnieszka Kryst. She is severe, stern and unforgiving, but slowly, she starts giving him small amounts of freedom which, incidently, come at the price of favours he needs to give her. These favours often take the shape of disturbed sexual games.
The abstract form that the film takes welcomes multiple readings and interpreations. Could it be that first-time filmmaker Grzegorz Mołda is attempting to underline the implicit authoritarian structure of the household? Is it a representation of the universal experience of childhood, a metaphor for the inevitable hierarchy that governs family structures? Is the instructor a stand-in for the institution of the Law, in all its forms? Is Molda tackling the ways in which cultural codes of behaviour are instilled in the patterns of thought and in the actions of teenagers? If this is so, her sexual advances seem misplaced, for incest is not inherent to all upbringings (by a long mile!), unless it serves as a further more elusive metaphor. The latent meaning of this dream-like narrative may lie elsewhere; it is not clear to me. Some scenes involve a plastic doll whose relentless cries drive the young man crazy. These scenes can feel awkward, for the situation is slightly too ridiculous. The comedy touches that emerge here and there can be disjointed and not creative enough. The same applies to the sexual scenes which ultimately begin to feel repetitive, building up towards an apex that is ultimately unsatisfying.
The film pays a heavy-handed homage to Yorgos Lanthimos’s seminal Dogtooth (2009), but unfortunately, The Hatcher never takes a life of its own. Indeed, it is never able to stray away from its tribute, the referent being glued on top of the reference to the point where devoted admiration becomes empty mimicry. While Yorgos was able to present a provocative exploration of the construction of human egos and morality in relation to cultural contexts, The Hatcher is not interested in presenting any argument or analysis, rather creating an abstract tale of grooming, of constricted growth which gives the impression of being subversive for the sake of being subversive. It veils itself with a façade of formal innovation, following the notorious auteurs of the art house canon, but its language is stale and frozen like the dead faces of its performers. Although it purports to be shocking, its scenes are never fully so, and the film ends up being rather tame. And prudish provocation is worse than prudishness itself. That being said, fans of Yorgos Lanthimos and Michael Haneke may appreciate this tribute to their clinical and twisted film language. One wishes, though, that Molda may develop his own unique voice in future projects.
The Hatcher just had its international premiere at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.