Very roughly translated from German to English, Sternenkind, the title of Daniel Michalos's second short film, refers to "that thing," though I am admittedly rusty in my recall of high school and collegiate German classes.
"That thing," in this case, is an almost unspoken tragedy that occurs in the lives of Julia (Friederike Hammer) and Hannes (Nils Wiegand), a couple expecting their first child. In the final trimester, the unborn child is diagnosed with a lethal illness that means it will die before birth. The two decide to leave the city for the countryside - Julia wishes to escape the glare of friends and the expectations that come with being pregnant. Hannes commutes to work each day, leaving Julia to be alone with a child that will die inside of her. As the tension quietly grows, the differences between Julia and Hannes become more apparent and destroy their relationship.
Written by Aristotelis Chaitidis, Sternenkind is a quiet and meditative film about love and loss and the ways in which it ripples throughout every area of our life. Filmed in an intimate yet almost jarring black-and-white imagery, the film's dialogue is sparse and favors the unspoken language of facial expressions, body language, and that unspoken silence that can exist between two people that says so much.
Friederike Hammer gives an intimate, vulnerable performanced as Julia who, at times, seems to be almost bathing in her grief. Her interactions with Nils Wiegand's Hannes are intimate yet guarded and become more guarded as the film unfolds. There is pain beyond what words can communicate and that's what Hammer seems to project here in a deeply moving way.
As Hannes, Nils Wiegand is perhaps a tad more outwardly expressive yet also seems to be slowly becoming a tightly wound ball of emotions with no outlet. Hannes's experience is very different, yet Wiegand does a nice job of making it just as vital and just as emotionally centered.
Tian Tsering's lensing is filled with shadows and crackles of light invading the darkness. It leaves us feeling as if we're somehow sharing in this experience, yet never quite knowing if there is to be hope found in a grief so intense.
At a mere 22 minutes in length, Sternenkind reveals director Daniel Michalos to be a gifted director with a gift for balancing the fullness of an emotional experience. While the film has trauma at its core, at its essence it is about far more as that trauma impacts the way both love and loss are expressed by both Julia and Hannes. It's refreshing to have a film about such an experience be such a quiet film, less focused on the trauma itself and far more on the people who experienced it.
The recently completed Sternenkind should prove to be popular on the festival circuit with a story that will unquestionably have deep and universal emotional resonance. If you get a chance, check it out.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic