Baby Blues: Berlin Review

Baby Blues Berlin Still - H 2013
Lukasz Niewiadornski

Baby Blues Berlin Still - H 2013

Sex, drugs and motherhood in contemporary Poland.

Polish writer-director Katarzyna Roslanlec's prize-winning teen drama is reminiscent of vintage Pedro Almodovar.

BERLIN - Teenage mothers from troubled backgrounds have been a staple of social realist cinema for half a century. But the young Polish writer-director Katarzyna Roslaniec brings plenty of sexy swagger and topical 21st century context to these familiar ingredients in Baby Blues, which has just taken top prize in the Berlin film festival’s teen-themed Generation 14-Plus section. Visually dazzling, and universal in theme, this spiky growing-pains drama could well make a splash in foreign markets.

As in her 2009 feature debut, Mall Girls, Roslaniec takes a non-judgmental close-up looks at young lives defined almost entirely by rampant consumerism and short-term hedonism, where a baby can become just another fashion accessory alongside the latest smartphone. But behind her sulky bravado, 17-year-old Natalia (Magdalena Berus) is desperately craving validation from her amiably useless skater boyfriend Kuba (Nikodem Rozbicki) and her own resentful, distant, sexually competitive mother Marzena (Magdalena Boczarska). Hemmed in by emotional and financial problems, Natalia struggles to act like a responsible parent to her baby son Antos, a moon-faced little cherub winningly played by twin brothers Dominik and Milolaj Lubek.

The attractive young cast are mostly screen debutantes, an impressive feat that the filmmakers proudly fanfare in the opening credits. All make convincingly gangly and moody adolescents, with the hardest work inevitably falling on Berus, who manages to make Natalia both infuriatingly selfish and achingly vulnerable. Her lifestyle involves drug use and casual sex, which Roslaniec neither condemns nor sensationalizes – possibly because, at 32, she is still close enough to her own teen years not to lapse into finger-wagging voyeurism.

The film’s weak points are its clichéd plot and jumpy, desiccated narrative. The final lapse into tragic melodrama also jars, an incongruous throwback to a more preachy and heavy-handed school of social realism. That said, the action is never boring, largely because Roslaniec fills every scene with spiky humor, emotional electricity and stylized visuals, most notably her splashy use of brightly colored clothes and interior décor. Reminiscent of vintage Pedro Almodovar, this razzle-dazzle palette is more artfully considered than the film’s punky aesthetic might suggest. Even at its most depressing, Baby Blues is a ravishing sensory experience.

Venue: Berlin Panorama Screening, February 17

Production companies: MD4, Zentropa International Poland

Producer: Inga Kruk, Agnieszka Kurzydlo

Cast: Magdalena Berus, Nikodem Rozbicki, Klaudia Bulka, Magdalena Boczarska, Dominik Lubek, Mikolaj Lubek

Director: Katarzyna Roslaniec

Screenwriter: Katarzyna Roslaniec

Cinematographer: Jens Ramborg

Editors: Bartosz Pietras, Jacek Drosio

Sales Company: MD4, Warsaw

Rating TBC, 105 minutes