C. Photo Credit: Filthy ​(2017)



Name: Nele Volbruck

Nationality: Estonia

Contact: nele.volb@gmail.com

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The central theme of Tereza Nvotova’s first feature film Filthy, screened at 52nd Karlovy Vary IFF, is a delicate one. There is no amiable way to talk about it, no probable method to paint it casually, and films expanding on it can hardly be described as enjoyable. “It” being rape, as if the word itself is not to be uttered. Thankfully, it is not so in the mind of Nvotova, whose startling picture about a troubled person keeping an atrocious trauma secretly locked away, urges the victims to come forward. 

Lena (Dominika Moravkova) is 17 when an incident happens in the presumably safe environment of her own home. In a tutoring session, settled behind the desk in close proximity to her math teacher Robo (Robert Jakab), she diligently drafts flawless triangles. When an embarrassingly loud domestic argument arises in the hallway, Robo does not shy away from consoling the clearly upset Lena. Emboldened by his own impulses, he forces himself upon her in broad daylight, just a door away from the girl’s family. An array of details that Nvotova employs in the rape scene – glazed looks filled with terror and desperate, silenced breaths – make it realistic and painful to watch. Impression that is only enhanced by the virtue of Moravkova’s profound performance. 

The scene sparked quite a dispute in the media. While some just question why Lena did not cry for help in the face of paralyzing shock, there are even those, who suggest she is mentally disabled because of that behaviour. The tone-deaf comments confirm Nvotova’s claim that it’s necessary to highlight these issues. Prior to filming, Nvotova’s meticulous research proved that most of the assaults happen not by the creeps lurking in bushes at night, but in places we know, by people we trust.  

Lena is initially introduced to us as an optimistic girl with a life ahead for her, but when she is shattered to smithereens, a new “character” starts to evolve, the trauma crippling her emotionally and mentally. During her brother’s birthday, she sees Robo in her home once again, mingling comfortably with her loved ones. This causes Lena to break down and she finds herself in a mental hospital, exposing a fresh layer of disturbance to the audience. The institution’s great offence is having an accusatory and hostile attitude against patients, especially the victims of sexual violence. Evidently, talking about it is considered crude and attention-seeking, a theme stressed by Lena’s roommate. Lena is pushed firmly into silence by the toll of having to legitimize her tragedy continuously. She endures bawdy taunting by her fellow patients, the doctors don’t take much notice.  

Casting the actual mental care patients makes the institution more credible. The outlook is sadly nothing but sombre. The cold and bleak, washed-out surroundings of the hospital visualize the dismal circumstances just as the warm hue prettying up scenes has been replaced by numbly achromatic colour scheme. 

Nvotova succeeds in accomplishing a highly complicated task in Filthy. She refrains from taking a superior moralizing stance, and illustrates the burning pain spots using a strong protagonist and an emotional story. She manages to avoid the blunders that appear easily in films dealing with sensitive social commentary. The film doesn’t try to cash in on shock value. Nvotova is straight and bold, yet empathic, when navigating the touchy themes. The film has sensibility that cannot be fabricated artificially, and is on point. It is at times
undermined by some difficult-to-obtain nuances, mistakes common in filmmaking. Simple logical mishaps here and there, and some occurrences, especially in the second half of the film, seem questionable from the angle of character motivation. 

All in all, the film defeats its shortcomings by capturing gripping emotion that has an impact on the viewer. Not only by using words, Nvotova offers an understanding of the protagonist’s mind set, using more than just words. Despite concerned looks and unintended, yet prevalent pity surrounding her, Filthy avoids belittling Lena’s identity to a simple “rape victim”. Whether the director is determined to communicate that through words or visually, either way it says a lot.   

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"Filthy" by Tereza Nvotova (CZ, SK)

KVIFF - Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2017 - Czech Films 2016-2017