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THE TROUBLE WITH BEING BORN

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by Sandra Wollner

grade: 6.5

If The Trouble with Being Born – directed by Sandra Wollner – on the one hand, reveals a good knowledge of film medium, on the other hand, it ends up being an essentially inconclusive film, which does not always make the most of its potential.

They live among us

It has often been discussed that – in the not too distant future – androids will be so similar to humans that they will almost be mistaken for them. This topic was dealt with, for example, just a few months ago by director Maria Arlamovsky in her documentary Robolove. But what would happen if such androids were even able to feel emotions? Such important – and very complex – questions were raised by young director Sandra Wollner with her The Trouble with being born (original title: Die Last geboren zu sein), premiered at the Berlinale 2020, in the new experimental section Encounters.

An operation, this one, undoubtedly brave. And if we consider that the director has already, for her part, shown a good resourcefulness in The impossible Picture, her debut feature, then this second feature film of hers immediately raised numerous expectations.

Undoubtedly rich in appeal is, in fact, the story of Elli, a ten-year-old girl who soon turns out to be an android. The young girl lives with a man she calls her father and with whom she seems to be very happy, although their relationship itself is somewhat ambiguous. The man, then, is given the task of making Elli the guardian of his memories. Things, however, will change when the little girl, in order to follow her father into the woods, gets lost, ending up with another family that will completely change the way she exists and functions.

Rather than a discourse on the future and technology in general, it is human relationships and the concept of family that are staged in The Trouble with being born. The android Elli is indeed capable of feeling, but, in fact, she is each time completely moulded to the liking of those who live with her, in order to fill emotional gaps, to help with household chores or to replace someone who has died prematurely.

Sandra Wollner, for her part – with a direction that mainly plays on atmospheres and that has made the element of the forest, which here plays a key role as symbol of the unconscious, memories and the oneiric, its trademark – deliberately leaves many questions unanswered, concerning both Elli’s birth and her past before she went to live with her father (only vaguely is it stated by the girl – in voice over – that her mother would never have allowed her to stay out at night). The relationships staged are, also, ambiguous, almost sick, within which Elli is literally used as an object by those close to her and who, in turn, end up developing a real Stockholm syndrome towards the one she calls father. Yet, despite this, this seems to be the only way to her happiness.

We agree: when so many things are in focus, the risks of getting lost along the way are greater than ever. And Sandra Wollner, unfortunately, has not managed to avoid them. Past and present come back again and again in The Trouble with Being Born. A thousand questions are raised for as many answers left unanswered. And yet, at the end of the screening, the feature film does nothing but end up irretrievably going around in circles, without finding its own aim. A decidedly extreme mise-en-scene, this one adopted by Sandra Wollner. Welcome, in any case, when one wants to tread new paths. Yet, on the other hand, it is also true that it is not easy to handle all the elements brought into play. And if, on the one hand, The Trouble with Being Born shows a good knowledge of the film medium on the part of the director herself (even though it does not in fact present anything particularly innovative in terms of mise-en-scène, but, on the contrary, almost seems to remind us, with regard to certain choices, of the cinema of Jessica Hausner or Angela Schanelec), on the other hand, it ends up revealing itself to be a film that is at times inconclusive, that does not always make the most of its potential. At the expense, precisely, of an undoubted directing talent, which, one hopes, will soon find its way again.

Original title: Die Last geboren zu sein
Directed by: Sandra Wollner
Country/year: Austria, Germany / 2020
Running time: 94’
Genre: drama, sci-fi
Cast: Lena Watson, Dominik Warta, Ingrid Burkhard, Jana McKinnon, Susanne Gschwendtner, Simon Hatzl
Screenplay: Sandra Wollner, Roderick Warich
Cinematography: Timm Kröger
Produced by: Panama Film, The Barricades

Info: the page of The Trouble with being born on iMDb; the page of The Trouble with being born on the website of the Austrian Film Commission; the page of The Trouble with being born on the website of the Berlinale