Kékszakállú ★★★½

[7]

My capsule review from my TIFF Wavelengths coverage for MUBI:

Two of the most difficult works in the festival could be said to intersect at a conceptual Venn diagram that, with some expansion, might also include The Human Surge. We could call it “bodies, at work and at rest,” which of course is a fairly broad category of human experience. But the new, third film (and first fiction feature) by Gastón Solnicki and Sharon Lockhart’s latest foray into experimental portraiture share more specific topoi. They are about young girls (becoming women, in the case of Kékszakállú) and how their desire to be who they are is at odds with the social and ideological demands of the larger world.

I will freely admit that I had my fair share of trouble finding my way into Kékszakállú. It took my 2½ viewings to feel as though I had a grip on what Solnicki might be up to, and this is partly because I had read that the work was based on Béla Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle. When I saw Solnicki’s exquisite compositions and bourgeois environments, I was lost. The film felt more of a piece with recent Argentinian work such as Lucrecia Martel’s La Cienaga and Jazmin Lopez’s Leones. This is hardly a bad thing, but I was missing the mythological element.

Alas, I was being too literal-minded. Where Bluebeard murdered his young wives, Kékszakállú is about the maturation process as a series of small compromises of identity, deaths of the soul. We see girls (and some boys at first) swimming and having fun, and then they are inside glued to their smartphones. Before long, they are working pointless office and factory jobs, answering to smarmy, paternalistic bosses. Then, as we focus on one young woman in particular, we watch her university experience go from uncertainty to a major—some kind of engineering degree—that will set her life on a permanent track. At times during these overtly banal moments, Solnicki delivers a minor-chord music sting from Bartók, as if to underscore the quiet horror of what’s going on. Possibilities narrow like a funnel, and that’s growing up.