Director: Katharina Mückstein
Katharina Mückstein’s tonally astute, quietly transfixing Talea is a mother-daughter drama that makes no assumptions of any inherent and intuitive bond between two biological kin. Though not a wholly pessimistic work, there’s an underlying scepticism buried in the minutiae of the interactions between Jasmin and her mother Eva as Mückstein questions whether maternal instincts can really be enough to bring two people back into sync after years of separation.
This carefully composed emotional rift is the compelling centre of a drama that poignantly illustrates a disconnection from the world at large – and while the still-developing Jasmin and the more worldly Eva seem to each harbour their own respective feelings of alienation (Eva, after all, is freshly out of prison), Talea feels hypnotically attuned to the loneliness of adolescence in particular.
This focus is evident from the opening sequence, which sees a line of young high-schoolers in swimming costumes, stretching their limbs in preparation for the physical trials to come. Jasmin, meanwhile, doesn’t even enter the pool, sitting meekly by the side in an aura of deceptive tranquillity that we soon discover masks repressed frustration and anxiety. That tension later boils over in a confrontation with Jasmin’s foster family over her reluctance to wear a tight pink dress, sending her rushing to her biological mother as the two take a trip to the country together.
In the early scenes of their excursion, Jasmin remains playful and friendly in conversations with her mother, but it is an enthusiasm that Eva struggles to reciprocate. Though she often plays her ‘cool mum’ role splendidly (she nonchalantly lets her daughter drink and smoke), there remains a disconcerting distance between the two leads that becomes all the more evident when a man works his way into the picture, quickly earning Eva’s attention while Jasmin is relegated to the status of distraction and annoyance. Catalysed by the largely unaddressed elephant in the room that is Eva’s prison time, it becomes a growing concern that Jasmin’s naïve attempts to reach out to her biological mother could end up leaving her lonelier than ever.
Eva and Jasmin’s scenes together are regularly punctuated with ominous shots of nature that suggest something lurking just beneath the surface. The actual exchanges between the two leads follow suit, with Mückstein showing an aptitude for keeping her scene-by-scene interactions just unresolved enough, maintaining a pensive and precarious balance in the mood of the central relationship.
Without slipping into trying arthouse indulgence, stretches of inactivity are affectingly utilised to communicate the psychological effects of time, one early highlight being an extended take of a post-rejection Jasmin riding her bicycle down an empty lane against a barren industrial landscape as she processes her own dejected state.
Mückstein’s appreciation for the nuanced influence and importance of time applies not just to the contemplative parts of Talea but also to its honest and unsentimental whole. In a film that finds tension in the incomplete and unspoken, Jasmin’s reckless journey to bond with her mother appropriately never reaches its point of emotional catharsis. Instead, Talea’s cautiously optimistic final minutes quietly steer the focus back to the underlying issues that sent Jasmin on her voyage and are still hers to overcome.
This a coming-of-age picture that recognises that a weekend holiday in the countryside will never be enough to transcend the psychological obstacles of youth. By the trip’s end, the perpetually alone Jasmin is still a long way from the life she wants to live, but at least she seems to understand the world and herself a little better than she did before. In a work this profoundly observant of the harsh realities of growing up, perhaps that’s as inspiring a resolution as you can get.