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Understanding that her job is among the tougher ones a documentarian (much less a first-timer) might bite off, Veronika Liskova begins Daniel’s World with a disclaimer: “Pedophile” does not mean “child molester,” and the young man she’s about to ask us to care about, an admitted pedophile, swears he would never put his desires into action. Moreover, as certain as he is that he’ll never act on his attraction to prepubescent boys, 25-year-old Daniel knows that this attraction is no more a matter of choice than homo- or heterosexuality is. The pic clearly agrees, and its sympathy toward his attempts to “come out” in a world he knows will be horrified will earn it instant condemnation in many quarters. It will be a challenging sell even at festivals, and art-house distribution would likely stoke (and perhaps benefit from) controversy. But those who brave it may find themselves rooting for this sad but self-aware young man.
A Czech student of literature, Daniel is seen early on consulting with a sexologist, who shows him a series of photographs and nonjudgmentally confirms what Daniel has been adjusting to for years. So long, in fact, that he has told at least one or two “normal” friends and sought out others who hope to deal openly with similar desires. In one scene, they meet on camera in disguises to discuss their strategies for keeping what goes on in their minds from ever becoming a physical reality.
Daniel and some peers open a can of worms by attempting to make common cause with those falling into other marginalized sexual categories. He meets with the organizer of a gay-pride parade, hoping to add one more initial to the growing LBGT acronym. Daniel is clear that he’s not fighting for the same kind of acceptance, and that he is reconciled to living a celibate life — “I don’t want [actual sex with pre-teens] to become legal … those are absurd thoughts.” Even so, the age-old conflation of homosexuality and pedophilia in the imagination of the ignorant makes the parade’s organizers understandably uncomfortable.
As for viewers who have managed to set discomfort aside, that task gets harder when Daniel speaks of the six-year-old boy — the son of a friend — he’s in love with. They see each other once a month or so, in the presence of the boy’s parents, and the child knows nothing of his feelings. (Daniel insists he never will.) As Daniel anxiously waits to learn when they’ll be able to hang out again, it’s hard to conceive any way for this scenario to end happily.
Production: Vernes, Ceska Televize
Director: Veronika Liskova
Screenwriters: Zdenek Holy, Veronika Liskova
Producers: Jana Brozkova, Zdenek Holy
Director of photography: Brano Pazitka
Editor: Hedvika Hansalova
Not rated, 72 minutes
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival