Radu Muntean’s Alice T. is discomfort distilled. A teenage pregnancy is brutally and unsentimentally depicted. This is a film concerned with fictions and lies, these rarely mendacious but always confused. Thematic purchase comes from a questionable, warped view of childhood identity, one predicated on adoption as the impulse for existential uncertainty. Without biological parents, one feels they don’t belong. It’s debatable whether this is a persuasive thesis in itself.
Andra Guti is impressive as Alice. The camera devotes much attention to her red, curly hair, offering an aesthetic focus, capturing her desire for rebellion. She’s rude, capricious and self-absorbed. She’s flirtatious and dismissive. She’s 16. Family disputes play out regularly. The protagonist’s mother Bogdana (Mihaela Sîrbu) gives the full emotional range: contempt to fury, despair to affection. These feelings apparently amount to unconditional love. At poorer moments, they amount to abuse.
Around the usual array of unsympathetic figures, both with and without authority, Alice’s behaviour fluctuates. She variously charms and retreats into moodiness, and come the end we’re presented with a sort of grim epiphany. But the relentless focus on her pure upset leaves a vacuum. It arrives in place of an acute emotional study, in place of forming a complex mood and tone. If this is another example of the Romanian New Wave, it has unique appeal.
Static, extended shots – in corridors, in hospital rooms – begin to lose their lustre. It’s difficult to locate profundity in such officious, sterile environments. School becomes a training ground for malice; cuddled cushions become macabre premonitions of miscarriage. Muntean hints at a sociopathic tendency.
Alice is treated; Alice is admonished. There are equivocations and delays. Our voyeuristic looming does little to help our understanding, nor does it enlighten us on her perplexed condition. She refuses to be spoken for. She remains a brat – or more accurately, a wayward teenager – until the moment of overwhelming trauma. This provokes a challenge, one that leaves us exhausted and bereft.
Alice T. does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Locarno Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Locarno Film Festival website here.