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Melanie Waelde's Naked Animals: Brutal honesty

(Marie Tragousti © Czar Film)

by LINDSAY R. BELLINGER

You shouldn't be fooled by the film's title Nackte Tiere (Naked Animals), as Melanie Waelde's debut feature has little to do with nudity although there is one bathroom scene that reveals a little skin. The naked refers more to the raw and wild yet delicate look into the life of five German teenagers, all of them attending school somewhere in the Brandenburg countryside. The energy, especially in scenes with Katja (an impressive turn by Marie Tragousti) and Sascha (Sammy Scheuritzel), is at times explosive and not just in their martial arts training. Katja and Sascha relate to one another in a physical, rough-housing sort of way, similar to how many athletes, male buddies and siblings horse around. At one point in the film I questioned whether or not Sascha was going to wake up after one of these rough bouts with Katja; I was concerned to say the least.

(Michelangelo Fortuzzi, Marie Tragousti © Czar Film)

Some characters react to Katja as if she might go off on them or someone else in their radius. Being afraid of females and their physical power is not something often shown onscreen in a meaningful way, besides a few silly horror films here or there. Tragousti is a real force to be reckoned with yet she manages truly sensitivite encounters particularly in her interactions with Benni (Michelangelo Fortuzzi who brings to mind US actor Michael Pitt in some of his earlier roles). The circle of friends is rounded out by Luna Baptiste Schaller as Laila, who struggles with an abusive mother, and Paul Michael Stiehler as Schöller, Laila's boyfriend who repeatedly openly hits on Katja. Through Waelde's use of closeups and a claustrophobic 6:5 framing, the brutally honest world of Katja, Benni, Sascha, Laila and Schöller is finely depicted. While the framing is shown from Katja's point of view the rest of her posse is not left out in the cold, with their stories also given some degree of gravity.

(Sammy Scheuritzel, Marie Tragousti  © Czar Film)

One could even be tempted to compare this story of youngsters in the Brandenburg wild to William Golding's 1954 novel Lord of the Flies, and at certain times it feels as if they are completely ungoverned by any parental units. Katja and her friends' "island" is not as remote and desolate as the island that Golding's Piggy and Ralph inhabit but if you see it from their point of view it might actually feel that way. Referring back to the violent and playful encounter between Katja and Sascha mentioned earlier, that is probably the most Lord of the Flies-esque scene. References to Katja and Benni's parents are fleeting, although Benni appears more amiss and confused as a result.

The way Waelde handles her story, as both writer and director, feels almost too authentic if one can say that. The social realism doesn't feel forced and perhaps the filmmaker's age - she was born in 1992 - not being that much older than those of her protagonists - born in between 1998 and 2001 - has something to do with that. Supposedly, the film is based on Waelde's own adolescence, but as of now I can only speculate. To wrap things up, I'd just like to say that before going into Nackte Tiere I was a little skeptical because an 83 minute running time made me worry that the storytelling might feel a bit rushed or incomplete in some way. That was surprisingly not the case as I felt that the way Waelde intimately shot her actors with the help of cinematographer Fion Mutert paced the film in a slow and natural way. The subtle editing by Jessica Schneller enhanced the well-paced feeling of the film. I usually greatly appreciate the atmosphere that a film score can add but Waelde's decision to refrain from using a traditional score, rather just using music related to the characters within the story, works really well. Melanie Waelde and her filmmaking team, backed by producer Anja Wedell, made a realistic and empathetic film that makes me eager to see what they'll come up with next.

(Nackte Tiere film team  © Berlinale 2020)

Nackte Tiere screened in the newly created Encounters sidebar at this year's 70th anniversary edition of the Berlinale. The film received a Special Mention by the jury for the GWFF Best First Feature Award.

 

 

Crew:

Written and directed by: Melanie Waelde
Cinematography: Fion Mutert
Editing: Jessica Schneller
Sound: Robert Fuhrmann
Production Design: Marcel Bonewald, Isabelle C. Schnabel
Costumes: Alina Bader, Sophie Leypold
Make-up: Franziska Mayntz
Assistant Director: Lotta Schwerk
Production Manager: Paul Dehn
Producer: Anja Wedell
Executive Producers:Thorne Mutert, Jan Fincke

Cast:
Marie Tragousti (Katja)
Sammy Scheuritzel (Sascha)
Michelangelo Fortuzzi (Benni)
Luna Schaller (Laila)
Paul Michael Stiehler (Schöller)

Produced by

Czar Film
Berlin, Germany
+49 30 2363117340
anja.wedell@czar.de


World sales

Media Luna New Films
Köln, Germany
+49 170 9667900
idamartins@medialuna.biz

 

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About Berlin

Chatelin Bruno

Berlin 2019: The dailies from the Berlin Film Festival brought to you by our team of festival ambassadors. Vanessa McMahon, Alex Deleon, Laurie Gordon, Lindsay Bellinger and Bruno Chatelin...
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