Elisa K -- Film Review

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SAN SEBASTIAN -- The traumatic consequences of childhood sexual abuse are examined in excessively stylish fashion by writer-directors Judith Colell and Jordi Cadena in the frustratingly pretentious "Elisa K." The cinematic equivalent of those so-called "misery memoirs," which have proved such a literary goldmine in recent years, this Catalan-language production, itself adapted from a book, will doubtless receive plenty of festival exposure thanks largely to the seriousness of its topic and a showy central performance by Aina Clotet.

But impeccable intentions only go so far, and are here undermined by fussy, over-elaborate execution, resulting in a movie whose chief use may perhaps be as an educational tool for teenagers or those working with victims of pedophile crime.

The first part of the film relates how bright 10-year-old schoolgirl Elisa (Claudia Pons) was raped by a friend of her father's, and how she dealt with this incident by burying it deep within her subconscious. The key sequence is tasteful to the point of being antiseptic -- the violation occurs off screen -- and, like everything else in this part of the film, is described by a near-incessant omniscient-authorial voice-over that quickly proves grating.

The first part (according to the directors, made under the influence of Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershoi) is lensed in luminous monochrome via immaculate tripod-mounted shots. The latter section, which apparently "references" Lucien Freud and Egon Schiele, and is set almost a decade and a half later, switches to color and jagged, hand-held camerawork.

The male narrator is replaced by Elisa herself (now played by Clotet, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Charlotte Gainsbourg). At the age of 25 her long-dormant memories all comes suddenly flooding back in an extended bathroom-set sequence of noisy emoting and mirror-smashing trauma.

This material should by rights exert a very strong effect on the viewer, but the directors opt for attention-grabbing stylistic techniques that cumulatively prove counter-productive and distancing: the very "literary" voiceovers, Sergi Gallardo's painterly cinematography, the script's time-hopping, chapter-like structure. This means that the finished product unfortunately feels much more like an exercise in aesthetics than a proper engagement with important, highly sensitive subject-matter.

Venue: San Sebastian International Film Festival
Production company: Oberon
Cast: Aina Clotet, Claudia Pons, Lydia Zimmermann, Hans Richter, Jordi Gracia, Nausicaa Bonnin, Mari Pau Pigem
Directors: Judith Colell, Jordi Cadena
Screenwriter: Jordi Cadena
Bsed on a novel by: Lolita Bosch
Producer: Antonio Chavarrias
Director of photography: Sergi Gallardo
Production designer: Isaac-Pierre Racine
Costume designer: Anna Pons
Editor: David Gallart
Sales: Wanda Vision
No rating, 75 minutes
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