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CAIRO 2021

Review: Daughters

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- Nana Neul has crafted an intimate road movie on acceptance, loss and daughterhood, which embraces low-key moods and loneliness as normal human states of being

Review: Daughters

German director Nana Neul already proved herself an expert in minimalistic tragicomedies with her first two films To Faro [+see also:
interview: Nana Neul
film profile
]
and Silent Summer [+see also:
trailer
interview: Nana Neul
film profile
]
, triggered by "a crazy story that I pick up somewhere and never forget," as Neul explained herself in a an interview for Cineuropa. Her third feature Daughters, which has just celebrated its international premiere within the main competition of the Cairo International Film Festival, focuses again on charming weirdos, gifted with a bizarre and authentically German (in its naturalism) sense of humour that spices up the otherwise serious theme of getting to know and reunite with one's roots and past in order to gain poise and be able to move on. Daughters centres on father-daughter relationships at the stage where daughters are about to say farewell to their fathers, while having themselves possibly missed the last train to become parents in turn. In particular, the film deals with the parental image and models that inevitably shape us and subconsciously determine our trajectories, as well as with the importance of understanding those crucial causal bonds.

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Bernhard Keller's camera unostentatiously presents the sunny and picturesque landscapes of countryside Switzerland, Italy and Greece where most of the film takes place, which drastically contrast with the gloomy temperaments of the main characters. Departing from frowzy Berlin, terminally ill Kurt (Josef Bierbichler) is heading to his last trip to Lago Maggiore with wheezing lungs and a beer pack in order to commit suicide there in the company of his anxious daughter Martha (Alexandra Maria Lara) and her best friend Betty (Birgit Minichmayr), who seems to be less tense, only thanks to her anti-depressants. Estranged and yet connected by some overall sadness, the three of them gradually relax their edges as they go further south. Out of the blue, Kurt will abandon his suicidal plan so as to reunite with his first love who runs a hotel at the lake, while the forty-something girlfriends will continue on to an Italian village, where Betty’s long-ago disappeared stepfather has been supposedly buried… or maybe it only looks like it. Roving in a semi-drunk condition most of the time and suffering each on her own – Martha because of her struggle to get pregnant with a boyfriend she rarely sees, and Betty eternally wаndering between bleakness, wrong men who always diminish like her father, and solitude – they are portrayed as hesitant, fragile and imperfect, thus are easy to identify with throughout their therapeutic journey. All three of them reunite for the final countdown on a Greek island where a man (Andreas Konstantinou), cheerful yet bored by the monotonous and happy-go-lucky local life, will make eyes at Betty and will gladly welcome the group’s eccentricity. 

What makes Daughters an innermost experience is that instead of combating desolation and reaching for a happy ending, it actually salutes melancholy without drowning in it, and allows the viewer to freely experience all its accompanying emotions, such as regret and self-pity but also purifying bitter laughter or even tears of reconciliation. Since life after a certain age is hardly carefree anymore, and although there might be a glimpse of hope because of Betty’s new romance, the prospects are blurred and not everyone gets a second chance. In this regard, Daughters is existentially dim and realistic with fleeting flashes of joy just like existence itself, which makes it especially truthful and liberating.

Daughters is a co-production between Germany’s Heimatfilm, Warner Bros Entertainment Germany and Little Shark Entertainment, Greece’s Heretic - Creative Producers, and Italy’s Simila(r), and backed by the National Centre of Audiovisual Media and Communication-EKOMEDirezione generale Cinema e audiovisivo del Ministero della Cultura DGCA-MIC.

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