I would love to say that I expect director Stephen Lacant's latest film Strange Daughter to be widely embraced during its screenings as an Official Selection at the 2018 Heartland International Film Festival in Indianapolis.
Yeah, I would love to say that.
But, the truth is that a German/Arabic language film with English subtitles with subject matter firmly planted on the edgier side of the Heartland universe will likely struggle to find broad acceptance amongst the usual Heartland fare even if Heartland has, in recent years, definitely broadened its horizons and challenged its audiences to find the positive impact found in edgier fare such as this incredibly compelling film about Lena (Elisa Schlott) and Farid (Hassan Akkouch), two seemingly disparate individuals who come together, just perhaps, precisely because they are mismatched.
Lena, age 17, meets the 19-year-old Farid, a young Muslim, and immediately rejects him with her firmly planted biases and attitudes about his culture and religion.
Nevertheless, you guessed it, the two fall in love. When Lena becomes pregnant, the two of them must make a pledge to each other and their child. Lena's mother, Hannah (Heike Makatsch), is horrified at the thought that her daughter would be expected to marry a Muslim - an act considered unfathomable to both Lena and Farid's families. However, despite the differences between their worlds, traditions, religions, and many other contradictions, it may just happen that these two are destined for one another.
This type of subject material is a natural fit for Lacant, director of Free Fall, and the film has already picked up a handful of prizes along its fest journey including Best Actress and Best Director at the Aubagne International Film Festival, Best FIlm at Biberach Film Festival, Best Film at Exground Filmfest, and the German Camera Award for a German television film. The film was also nominated for a CIVIS Media Prize for Integration, a sure sign of the film's social insights within its involving story.
Strange Daughter was well on its way to becoming one of my favorite films of Heartland during its energized, spirited first half in which Lena's rather devil may care attitude gives the film an emotional energy that one should have guessed would likely not be sustained throughout its mostly well-paced 106-minute running time. It's not that Strange Daughter bottoms out, far from it, but as reality sets in, tensions rise, and conflicts grow to be physical altercations the film's energy slows down just enough to be noticeable.
Where Lacant really excels, and this is much owing to strong performances from co-leads Schlott and Akkouch, is in creating a universe in which this relationship between two remarkably complex individuals feels authentic and actually makes sense. Schlott's Lena is a guarded young woman, almost stoic, yet her transition into a more free-wheeling spirit feels natural and believable. Meanwhile, Hakkouch's Farid excels as both a believably disciplined Muslim and a young man whose masculinity sizzles and whose chemistry with Lena follows.
While much of Strange Daughter feels character driven, as the story begins to wind down the film itself shifts from character-centered to more narratively fueled. This isn't necessarily a bad decision, simply a less compelling one that takes us away from that which made us understand Lena's vast transformation throughout the film into a place where the transformation, at least toward the end, feels more expository than character-driven.
Truthfully, however, these are minor quibbles for one of the true indie gems from the 2018 Heartland International Film Festival and, unfortunately, a film unlikely to get the immense love it deserves. With top notch performances by the co-leads, along with a terrific supporting turn by Makatsch as Lena's mother, Strange Daughter is a film I've not been able to stop thinking about since watching it.
Michael Kotschi's lensing transforms with the changing of the seasons and the changing dynamics of the central relationship here, while Durbeck & Dohmen contribute one of the year's best original scores that deserves mention when awards season comes around.
Strange Daughter will screen three times at Heartland:
- Oct. 12th @ 10am at AMC Castleton Square 14
- Oct. 17th @ 2:45pm at AMC Castleton Square 14
- Oct. 18th @ 5:45pm at AMC Showplace Traders Point 12
For ticket information, visit the Heartland Film website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic