'Baby(a)lone': Film Review

Iris Productions
A familiar teenage angst story benefits from strong casting and camerwork.

Luxembourg’s Oscar entry was adapted from Tullio Forgiarini’s prize-winning book.

An extremely bleak portrayal of disenchanted youths gone wild, Baby(a)lone plays out like a spinoff of The Breakfast Club as seen through the eyes of Harmony Korine and Michael Haneke — though with neither the anarchistic humor of the former nor the impeccably crafted despair of the latter.

Adapted from the 2011 novel Amok, which received the European Union Prize for Literature, this second feature from producer-director Donato Rotunno (In a Dark Place) doesn’t have much to distinguish it from like-minded fare, even if sharp cinematography and performances make it easy enough to watch. As Luxembourg’s official foreign-language Oscar entry, it could find a few more festival bookings after a local release this past spring.

An unnamed 13-year-old boy (Joshua Defays) is the kind of problem child you’d want to keep your kids far away from. With an absentee dad and a mother (Fabienne Elaine Hollwege) who makes a living performing webcam sex in the room next door, the troubled young man certainly doesn’t have much going for him. Things get even worse when he beats a fellow classmate with a lead pipe, landing him in a special detention program which, at least, is better than getting “f—d in the ass” in reform school (as he puts it during conversations with a friend (Etienne Halsdorf), who may or may not exist).

Things look up, if only slightly, when the boy meets Shirley (Charlotte Elsen), a cute waiflike blond who winds up in the same special ed class (for beating a girl with a rock), and whose overtly rebellious attitude is a contrast to his more introverted form of violence. Eventually the two grow to like each other, though the match they wind up making is more akin to the couples in Badlands or Natural Born Killers, putting the young and dangerous lovebirds on a long road to nowhere.

Shot by DP Jako Raybaut in a cool and distant style that recalls early Haneke works like Benny’s Video (which is a much more convincing portrayal of blind adolescent cruelty), the film heads in mostly predictable directions despite a setting that’s not exactly typical — especially a massive school complex that looks like it could be the headquarters of one of Luxembourg’s many international banks. There are a few twists late in the game involving the protagonist’s past, but, like much else here, they are fairly easy to telegraph and hardly alleviate the overall sense of doom and gloom.

Rotunno directs in a clear and concise manner, coaxing respectable turns out of young newcomers Defays and Elsen, who come across as touchingly innocent despite some of the awful things their characters do. In the end, the two appear to be pure products of broken households — not exactly the most original take on the teen angst flick, and Baby(a)lone really doesn’t add much to such an already well-tread genre. Still, it’s effective enough in places to reveal how, whether in a tiny nation like Luxembourg or elsewhere, parents just don’t understand and the kids are never all right.

Production companies: Iris Productions, Iris Films
Cast: Joshua Defays, Charlotte Elsen, Fabienne Elaine Hollwege, Gintare Parulyte, Etienne Halsdorf
Director: Donato Rotunno
Screenwriters: Tullio Forgiarini, Donato Rotunno, Nicolas Steil, based on the novel “Amok” by Tullio Forgiarini
Producer: Nicolas Steil
Director of photography: Jako Raybaut
Production designer: Andre Fonsny
Costume designer: Caroline Koener
Editor: Matyas Veress
Composer: Eric Bintz
Casting director: Veronique Fauconnet
Sales agent: Iris Productions

No rating, 98 minutes

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