Overall few things are worse than watching a movie at a school screening. The idiots talking loudly is quadrupled and the number of people irritating you with crisps and other candy noises is multiplied by an exponential number. An exception may be made for commercial movies which mistakenly end up shown to a full house of students, but the arthouse film that’s generally shown for this type of venue gets the rough treatment. I’ve always wondered whether teens should be forced to go and watch a movie they normally wouldn’t watch and I don’t think I have a clear answer. Yes, because this exposes them to a movie they wouldn’t see and it may broaden their horizons. No, because the forced nature and the irritating classmates prevent people from having a good experience in the first place. No, because normally the selection of films is generally sickeningly awful. Billy Elliot is a typical sort of school cinema seen as a wonderful piece of cinema, opening the eyes of the youngsters to the beauty of the world. (In other news, I’m trying to plug Eden Lake – or at least clips of the film – for next year’s chapter on “youth and crime”.)
First of all, props to the people on my left last week who, whilst breaking every cinema law in the rulebook, munched on their crisps only during the action scenes. Beautiful Bitch was the movie selected and it was a German movie (which led to a massive sigh of ennui when the first sentence of the film was uttered) made in 2007. Apparently the film (alternatively called “Bica and the Street Kids” for the American audiences, who don’t understand the word ‘bitch’) doesn’t even appear on the bigger arthouse sites where people go and download films illegally. (Though, for this sort of film, it’s often the only place to find it.)
Fourteen-year old Bica is a Rumanian girl who got smuggled into Germany by ex-cop Christu, who decided forcing five kids to go and steal money for him in exchange for a smelly blanket in a moldy apartment would earn him more than chasing people who do that sort of stuff. Bica and a younger boy watch Paris Hilton wannabe Milka having an argument with her dad (dad’s divorced and Milka can’t get either parent to sign the necessary documents for their underage daughter to get a nose correction) and manage to steal the man’s wallet. Milka tries to stop Bica and loses her necklace during the fight. Milka doesn’t notice this and thinks she lost it when she fell into a fountain. Bica watches her from a distance and the tears on Barbie’s face convince Bica to go and look for the necklace.
Eventually the girls meet up again and after a fight they become friends. Bica (nicknamed Bitch by Milka, whose real name is Ilonka – kids these days…!) starts hanging out with her Milka and friends, but the weekend trip when Christu is away ends in a major disaster when Christu arrives home early. The corrupt ex-cop mutilates one of his junior pickpockets as revenge and things go from bad to worse. Bica tries to escape the country, but has to face Christu again…
When reading the synopsis, I felt an eerie deja vu: some of the movie reminded me of Lilya 4-Ever, the gigantically depressing film by Lukas Moodysson. During the rape scene in Beautiful Bitch – sure, there has to be a rape scene in this sort of movie – Bica and Lilya seemed horribly close. There’s also a fatal scene on a bridge in both movies. But whereas Lilya starts with Lilya jumping from a bridge (followed by 90 bleak minutes telling you why suicide was a better option for this girl), Beautiful Bitch ends with Bica in Romania. Yes, the girl still can’t visit her tiny brother in the asylum for street kids (that’s how Christu managed to get his hands on Bica: he saved her from ending up in such a place when her brother was arrested by the police) but at least she can watch him play from the other side of the street and now she can keep all the money she earns: gone are the days where she has to steal money for an ex-cop who kept her share to himself, now she can guard a shop and sleep in the corner of the shop. As far as happy endings go, it’s not the most cheery of them all, but you do get the feeling girls have a chance to leave the pimps and gangsters who were responsible for their misery. Personally, I found the film’s climax too sweet and unbelievable.
Equally annoying was the way the characters were introduced. Christu and Bica’s flatmates are introduced by pausing the film and writing the characters’ names on the screen. Hurrah for the 1578th director to use that idea since Reservoir Bitches (never mind that Ta****ino stole it himself from Lady Snowblood). It’s more than 15 years since Reservoir was made, but it’s still an indication of a director who wants to look hip and fails miserably.
But I don’t want to sound too negative, so props for Katharina Derr who’s quite good as Bica. The movie may have received five awards so far (at festivals you never heard of, but that’s besides the point), only one of them went to this young actress and it was only a Special Mention award. Okay, I did hear of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, but the other four were complete strangers to me. So was the director: Martin Theo Krieger directed two movies in the 80s (one of them for tv) and spent the 90s and 00s writing the occasional episode of a tv series. It’s not the most outstanding and prolific filmography, but it’s a good indication to judge his film: you can’t say it’s bad and some of the cast are genuinely good, but it leaves a soapy aftertaste in your mouth.
The best thing I can say about this film is that afterwards I wanted to subject myself to the pitch-black bleakness of Lilya 4-Ever. Part of me wants to rate Beautiful Bitch more than 5/10, which is thanks to Katherina Derr and Sina Tkotsch (who, although only born in 1990, already has a longer filmography than the film’s director). The other part wants to rebel against the many cliches in the film (there’s even one scene where Bica sniffs the gas from a spray can) and the sickeningly faux-happy end and rate it lower than 5/10. So let’s call it a 5/10, please none of my two sides and go and watch the film’s trailer (in German only – but you’ll get the jist).
P.S. And if you think you’re too cheerful for this day, here’s the opening scene of Lilya 4-Ever: