Melbourne, Melbourne International Film Festival 2014

Jack, MIFF 2014

1 Comment 04 August 2014

Simplistic and immersive, Edward Berger’s Jack tells the story of the prepubescent title character and his trials under the parentage of his feckless mother Sanna. Jack is tasked with taking care of the house and his younger half-brother Manuel. When an accident occurs that sees Manuel in the emergency room, social services get involved and Jack is (kind of inexplicably) sent off to a children’s home, with Manuel staying in Sanna’s care. Facing an extended stay at the home and escalating violence from an older boy, Jack flees and embarks on a harrowing journey with Manuel through the streets of Berlin to locate their in-the-wind mother.

Jens Harant’s work behind the lens is fantastic; the camera is almost constantly at Jack’s eye-level, following him with patient supervision and ramping up the tension with hurried overtones when necessary. We see Berlin in a beautiful summer light that runs opposite to the magnitude of Jack’s predicament. Plentiful long shots capture the beautiful urban playground that we are invited to snake through with the brothers.

Ivo Pietzcker delivers a convincing and sympathetic performance as Jack, though he can appear slightly one-dimensional in his stony exterior, which is broken, for a moment, in a painful expression of doubt upon an anticlimactic reunion with his mother. For the most part, Jack is responsible, but little details betray his youth: taking sugar packets for Manuel and himself to eat, or stealing binoculars from an electronics store to replace a friend’s pair that he was responsible for losing. The smaller details of Jack are all-important; through them we see a fully realised family, in all of their quirks and flaws, and a careless mother that somehow defies our condemnation.

Jack doesn’t take the easy route in vying for our sympathies; no dire harm befalls the boys in their tour of Berlin, and though you do eventually let yourself breathe, it just gives way to a heavier sadness. Jack really drives home the reality of the situation, and forces you to accept the motherly unreliability that will only continue to affect the boys. Although Sanna is selfish and flighty, she does redeem herself somewhat by giving herself wholly to her kids when she is around, and it’s very clear that she loves them dearly, even if she doesn’t know how to be a responsible parent.

On a broader scale, Jack forces us to face the actuality that many boys Jack’s age might come to know; too young for independence and almost too old for the system, these boys are caught in limbo between youth and adulthood. Sometimes the neglect or abuse isn’t as visible, but it still has the same effects, and can leave boys like Jack all alone in a city like Berlin.

3/5 stars


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This post was written by who has written 14 posts on Buzzcuts.

Alexandra Schnabel exclusively watches high-concept documentaries, arthouse films and Law and Order: SVU re-runs (Stabler era only). She reviews two of three here sometimes.

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