(Die Unerzogenen) Pia Marais / Germany / 2007
Sometimes you watch a film that screams out how much it resembles another film. Die Unerzogenese or The Unpolished is one such and it at first seems to be a clone of The State I Am In, a fellow German film by Christian Petzold. Similarly it's about a burgeoning teenager who has rebels for parents. In The Unpolished they are petty drug dealers and criminals; in The State I Am In they are terrorists along the lines of the Red Brigade. In both films the daughters rebel by trying to be normal.
There have also been a few US films covering the same territory, notably Running on Empty or to a lesser extent The Mosquito Coast or Flashback. In all the essential dilemma is that how can the children of the baby boom generation rebel in the same way their parents did. The concept of the teenager was practically invented for the baby-boomers, who had an easily definable establishment to rally against, leaving those of us who came next an almighty vacuum within which to grow up. It also may be no coincidence, but as Noel Gallagher recently pointed out, more people today in Britain are interested in voting for Big Brother or Dance Academy than for determining who their next local MP might be. Unlike the American versions on this dilemma, the German films mentioned above stick out because they both star girls and are much more concerned with conformity: a concept that fits both the caricature of the German national character and the stereotype of teenage girls.
In The Unpolished, Stevie (Ceci Chuh) a fourteen year old girl, clashes with her unruly dope dealing parents while they hole up in a small town suburban house the mother has inherited from her parents. Unexpectedly her father (played by Head On's Birol Unel) also turns up, recently released from jail, much to Stevie's angst. Taking full advantage of this semblance of normality Stevie struggles to fit in with the local teens while her parents run riot.
One horrifying scene depicts her herculean quest for acceptance when she tries to bribe the other teens with drug money she's stolen from her parents. They nonchalantly rebuff her with a callousness typical of teens. Another shows her forlornly trying to go to school only to be challenged by the teacher and told to go home. Meanwhile back at home her parents and friends continue to live riotously captured in all its vomit splattered glory in one captivating sequence where Stevie and a friend wander round her mother's house in the aftermath of a party. They take pictures of all the adults sprawled about the property in various states of hangover and disarray - slumbering, having morning sex etc. The uphill battle for acceptance facing Stevie is never more numbly overpowering.
Just like all the others of its ilk the drama is created by the clash between parents who embody everything the stereotypical teenager wants: basically freedom from parental and societal rules. Differentiating itself The Unpolished has a poignant sexual element emphasising the emergence of Stevie's womanhood. However much she grapples to socialise with the local kids, Stevie can always take her frustrations out back home in a 'no rules' atmosphere. She has an expertly portrayed relationship with her father's friend Ingmar which is just on the verge of turning sexual. The two play around and grapple for a good few seconds longer than is comfortable on several occasions. Thankfully the director pulls the plug on this one before any damage occurs. Ingmar admirably won't touch her as she's too young despite being clearly aroused by her. It would have been easier perhaps to tell a darker story, and certainly a more realistic one, but the hint here is enough. By pulling the blow the director Pia Marais shows considerable potential and not a little hopefulness for the world.
In inevitable comparison to The State I Am In, The Unpolished is much more mundane, and hence real. There are no car chases here. You will never know if terrorists are living in the house next door, but people who don't quite know how to raise their kids whilst loving them unconditionally are everywhere. In this sense Pia Marias has hit the nail on the head with remarkable understatement.