Filthy, dir. Tereza Nvotová│Bursting straight out of Prague’s prestigious FAMU film school, director Tereza Nvotová brings her final project as a student to Vilnius Film Festival’s “New Europe – New Voices” strand. Her daring first fiction feature homes in on the apocalyptic experiences of a young Slovakian teenager who is sexually assaulted in her family home in Bratislava.
Many are the films that feature rape, or use instances of rape like a portable plot device, but few are those that actually study its consequences or the impact it has on the men and women who experience rape. Filthy is a notable exception in that regard, and that does mean that this powerful indie drama becomes a heavy tragedy. That makes this a film that is not to be consumed glibly, but it is also a vital discussion starter – one that will make a worthwhile addition to a number of discursive film festival programmes.
Filthy doesn’t necessarily start as you might expect, though. In fact, the its opening sequences are perhaps some of the film’s best moments, keeping you constantly guessing as it does. First we get a flash forward: the film opens on the upside-down girl’s face as she undergoes a medical procedure. Almost instantly, we assume she is something like a cancer patient, or something similar, but in reality we are watching an attempt to supress her memories of rape using electroshock therapy.
What makes these fleeting scenes so great is the way they detach sound from what we see. A woman asks the girl to count, and as she does, her mouth remains deathly still. Slowly heavy, languid breathing becomes the main thing we can hear, but again detached from what we can see. There is this great sense of emotional dissonance, and it is almost a pity that there are not more scenes like this in the film.
Moments later, Filthy bounces off into a very typical scene. The same girl dances with boy in a thumping nightclub. Thankfully, this is not about to be one of those cases where women are essentially depicted as responsible for their own rapes due to their own drunkenness. This dramatic beat is simply the opening chapter of a perfectly happy adolescence.
Like so many girls her age, Lena (Dominika Zeleníková) is a perfectly rebellious young woman, skipping school as and when she sees fit, and enjoying the occasional sneaked cigarette. Her lucid, pale face even bares a few laughter lines from a wild, misspent youth here and there. Unfortunately for Lena, as is so often the case, sexual violence threatens from some of the most trusted and familiar figures in her life.
Filmed very much from Lena’s perspective, the act of violence against her body is momentary, but the long-term effect it has on her mental well-being is devastating. This event causes the multiple layers of the film’s title to slowly tease out: has Lena had a filth (either external or emotionally internal) which she cannot wash away thrust upon her? Or has such a socially dirty thing happened to her that she is forced to hide it away like a secret taboo?
Either way, an involuntarily, continued closeness to her attacker drives the young woman to attempt to take her own life, leading her family to turn her in to a mental asylum. From this point, the colour well and truly bleaches out of Filthy, leaving a deathly washed out and grey cinematography in its place. In these moments and these effects, Nvotová captures perfectly the smothering lethargy and emotional detachment of absolute despair, but she also nails the incredibly dark sense of humour that people often find in their moments of greatest hopelessness.
This section of the movie is also actually set in Slovakia’s largest asylum, and it looks rather like a bleak, giant concrete birdcage, with thick white bars on the windows. And what occurs in this forlorn space feels like a mix between a very genuine exploration of the effects of rape and a harsh critique of the inadequacies of Slovakia’s mental health care system. Throughout Filthy, this system seems incredibly ill-equipped to offer any kind of support to the victims of rape, doing little more than drugging or discrediting them.
But this considerable part of the film is much more than just a critique of this institution. It’s a real demonstration of the consequences of Slovakian society not having any kind of space to discuss sexual transgressions or give a voice to those affected by it. As such, Filthy represents the beginning of a discussion of a frighteningly common problem – not only in Slovakian society, but in societies everywhere. This is a discussion that is well worth entering into, if this is a subject matter that you feel very strongly about.
But in terms of lessons that a new director can also learn from a project like Filthy, the film does perhaps feel like it continues in the same, intense emotional grove for longer than it was possible to sustain as a viewer. Obviously, it would have been out of place to have upbeat scenes in a film like this, but perhaps some of the film’s climaxes could have been more varied to really keep you involved. Either way, Filthy is a very striking piece of drama and hopefully the beginning of some important discussions locally and internationally.■
│In cooperation with│
Filthy / Špina│ Director: Tereza Nvotová│ Screenplay: Barbora Námerová│ Camera: Marek Dvořák│ Editing: Jiří Brožek, Michal Lánský, Janka Vlčková│ Music: -│ Cast: Dominika Morávková, Anna Rakovská, Róbert Jakab │ Producer: Milos Lochman, Peter Badac│ Production Company: moloko film / B Film│Country: Czech Republic / Slovakia│ Year: 2017 │ Running Time: 88 min. │ International Sales: Film Republic│ Festival: Vilnius FF 2017│