'Flocking': Filmart Review
Beata Gardeler’s Crystal Bear-winning second feature is a stifling and sadly revealing condemnation of the modern response to assault
The very definition of rape is only part of the story in Beata Gardeler’s Flocking, an understated (given the subject matter) and assured examination of not just a sexual assault but of the kind of backwards looking single-minded solidarity that almost compels the wrong person be punished. Reminiscent of Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt in the way it strips the veneer off the image of Scandinavian progressivism, Gardeler (In Your Veins) and writer Emma Brostrom point an accusing finger at our collective tendency towards skepticism of rape victims as well as the dangers of groupthink, particularly in the modern online world. Flocking should do brisk business at broad spectrum as well as specialty festivals, and limited release in Europe and urban centers overseas isn’t out of the question.
Loosely based on a true story, Flocking at first seems all too familiar. The action picks up in a small, God-fearing Swedish town during a boisterous wedding. This is clearly a place where everyone knows each other and everyone attends the same community events. Fourteen-year-old Jennifer (Fatime Azemi) is among the guests, and like many, she has a bit too much to drink. But days later, after she accuses the popular Alexander (John Risto) of rape the good nature and good will from the wedding evaporate. She does the right thing from start to finish and tells the right people. Though we don’t witness the crime, things seem cut and dried.
Oddly, the police and the courts are not the knuckle draggers here. It is the tight knit community that rallies around Alexander, not Jennifer, and that refuses to believe any such thing cold happen in their idyllic town. Slowly, Jennifer becomes the perpetrator. She’s dubbed a “whore” and alienated from who she thought were her friends. At the same time Alexander’s mother, Susanne (Eva Melander, perfectly imperious and rigid), unleashes a torrent of online vitriol, victim-blaming and threats and before the case has even been adjudicated Jennifer—and her family—are pariah. Her sister is left off the soccer team, her mother, Mia (Malin Levanon) is demoted and Mia’s boyfriend David (Jakob Ohrman) loses his will to stand up for Jennifer, opting to fall back in line with the herd, or the flock.
There is no real mystery in Flocking—there isn’t supposed to be—but in addition to exploring the social blowback Jennifer is subjected to, Gardeler and Brostrom take a minute to confront the very notion of what rape is and our expectations of how a rape victim is supposed to behave. Jennifer’s reticence and her penchant for hiding behind her hair do nothing except fan the flames of the town’s misdirected ire. It gets even worse in court, when Alexander’s lawyer ask Jennifer if he vaginally penetrated her. When she admits he did not, it’s even more evidence with which to cast Jennifer as a liar. How can there be a rape with no penetration? It’s a complex question that is directly connected to our beliefs as to what constitutes sex—and therefore sexual assault. However a great deal of the film revolves around Jennifer’s growing isolation as it is exacerbated by chat groups and Tweets, and how easily and quickly what little safety network she has is stripped away. A younger sister that just want to be “normal” is almost understandable, but David succumbing to the masses (after some gruesome peer pressure), the local pastor not offering the sanctuary the church should and finally her mother’s drunken rant about losing her boyfriend because of Jennifer’s behavior is as heartbreaking as it is infuriating.
Through it all Fatime Azemi maintains a believable and empathetic grace as she bears the burden of unwarranted blame almost to the point of collapse. Similarly John Risto does an admirable job of carrying around Alexander’s guilt (he knows he’s done something wrong) without tipping over into rationalization. Visually, Gosta Reiland’s photography bathes the entire film in an increasingly claustrophobic, stifling cold gray that’s a perfect reflection of the stifling town. Reiland and Gardeler never get too fussy with the camera, opting for unsettling stillness that ups the tension incrementally and lays the groundwork for, possibly, greater tragedy. Flocking ends on a strange note, one that’s not as cathartic as it could be in light the town’s resistance to rocking the boat, but more tellingly, by waiting until the very last frames to reveal the truth of the matter, Gardeler makes us complicit in Jennifer’s (and by extension every other rape victim) subsequent ordeal.
Production company: 2AFilm
Cast: Fatime Azemi, John Risto, Eva Melander, Malin Levanon, Jakob Ohrman, Henrik Dorsin, Ville Virtanen, Pasi Haapala, Julia Gronberg, Ayelin Naylin
Director: Beata Gardeler
Screenwriter: Emma Brostrom
Producer: Agneta Fagerstrom Olsson, Annika Hellstrom
Executive producer: Per-Erik Svensson, Max Hallen, Stefan Hencz
Director of photography: Gosta Reiland
Production designer: Ella Furudahl
Costume designer: Viktoria Mattila
Editor: Linda Jildmalm
Music: Lisa Holmqvist
Casting director: Linda Berger, Annette Winblad
World sales: Media Luna New Films
No rating, 110 minutes