The premonition: is it faith or fake?
Fien Troch will debut her fifth feature film, Holly, at this year’s Venice Film Festival in the hope of accumulating another award. The director has previously explored human responses to trauma; often her work does not shy away from the brutality of grief and how life-altering it can be. Troch keeps this motif here, as viewers follow a touching and turbulent period in the life of 15-year-old Holly as she tries to save her community from anguish.
The establishing shot of the feature positions the protagonist at the centre of the screen, and this is where she will remain for the duration – at the heart of the narrative. Holly, in a frantic, erratic, and seemingly frenzied manner, calls her school to notify them of her absence. When questioned, she reveals that she cannot attend because of “a bad feeling”. Seconds later the camera pans to the school building engulfed in flames that claim the lives of several of her peers. This tragedy shocks the entire community and leads them to seek solace in Holly, as she is transformed into a beacon of hope.
It is hard to place a genre on Troch’s work because, despite the realistic environment, characters and relationships in Holly, there is something about it that feels entirely fantastical. On a more literal level, viewers often hear the teenager referred to as “the witch”, due to her introverted nature and ability to read people. The fantasy tone is also noticeable in the unwavering belief of her teacher, Anna, who has the idea that Holly can help minimise pain through divine intervention. The idea continues as she is later presented in a much more holy light: her wardrobe shifts from a dark red colour palette to a white one. This notion of divinity can feel farfetched to the viewer and, at times, the plot feels slightly lost. That said, familial relationships are explored touchingly, and this brings heart to the central character.
Holly is primarily an insight into how humans respond to change. Troch explores the ambiguity around sadness and how faith can be a guiding light for those who are lost. The film is both infuriating and captivating, as viewers watch the space between admiration and manipulation blur. This is a bittersweet account of girlhood and finding your place in society, in which the director explores the pressure of hope in a tender and shocking way.
Holly does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Venice Film Festival 2023 coverage here.
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Watch the trailer for Holly here: