EIFF 2017 – The Erlprince – Scottish Premiere
Director: Kuba Csekaj
Starring: Stanislaw Cywak, Agnieszka Podsiadlik, Sebastian Lach, Bernhard Schutz
Run Time: 101mins
The EIFF programme describes this as a “coming of age sci-fi that weds Goethe to Donnie Darko” which as weird and out there as that sounds is a fairly accurate description as The Erlprince is actually loosely based on the Goethe poetic ballad Der Erlkonig and does defiantly have a little of that Donnie Darko flavour, even if in many ways it is still a very different film.
The Erlprince opens with a mother and son in a car listening to radio announcer discussing a figure who is calling himself the “Preacher of the Universe”, a man who apparently predicted the apocalypse on the day this opening scene is taking place, its seems that this preacher had actually made a minor error and that the end of the world will actually take place in 12 days. (so he wasnt too far off to be fair to the dude) and as the rest of the movie plays out, we are constantly reminded by the image of a clock countdown on a computer screen counting that the world will in-fact end in less than two weeks!
For all the film’s sci-fi complexity and flights of fancy, the meat of the film focuses on the strange and intense mother-son relationship between the characters played by Stanislaw Cywak and Agnieszka Podsiadlik who are simply referred to as The Boy and The Mother in the credits.
The relationship takes makes many a turn with it sometimes being that of an overachieving youngster (he is a 15 year old physics prodigy) and his pushy mother (she is pushing for him to enter a top European physics prize), and then sometimes it is a touchingly tender relationship, other times it even seems borderline incestuous one as we see quite a few scene (more than i felt comfortable with) of the two being just a little two close together?!
Both actors give strong performances as while Cywak character, like many a teenager, is often sullen, unresponsive and obnoxious there also moment of real vulnerability and the actor keeps him just about likeable enough for the viewer to root for him.
Podsiadlik is even better as the mother, by turns she goes from being strong and domineering to doe-eyed and almost childlike to wild and sexually charged, but no matter how much she seems to switch it up, she continues to convince with each drastic character gear shift.
The film has an interesting set of influences and styles as much of it seems to have a sci-fi direction but there are many other elements present here, with the movie shifting upon the arrival of The Man (Sebastian Lach) who is the boy’s father and is some sort of wolf keeper in a forest zoo and initially comes across as almost feral himself. Here the film takes on a more fairy tale atmosphere with the way the forest is lit and the vivid use of the colour red bringing to mind such things as “The Company of Wolves 1984”.
There is certainly a heavy mix of elements going on here from fairy tale, to teenage coming-of-age, to Oedipal drama and weirdo sci-fi. These elements do not always quite gel if i am being completely honest, and it has to be said that the plot does slightly run out of steam towards the end, but the ambition on display is more than admirable making the film overall really quite brilliant. I am also looking forward to seeing if i apriciate it even more on a second viewing (something i will defiantly be doing).
Verdict: A totally weird and out-there movie that is bound to beguile some, while bewildering many others but overall very good and frequently thrilling!
Words by Scott Murphy