Antenna Documentary Film Festival HE SHE I: He said, she said
For her debut film ‘HE SHE I’, Carlotta Kittel chats with her parents and records the outcome. Shot with her mother, Angela, and father, Christian, conversing directly to the camera, it’s a straightforward concept with a straightforward filmmaking approach. After speaking with each individually, she shares the footage of their discussions, asking them to comment. Depending on whether they are talking or responding, she frames them in one of two ways: sitting on a black patterned couch against a red wall, unleashing years of emotion; or viewing a laptop in a light, neutral-toned space, then furnishing their unfettered opinions on what they’ve seen and heard.
Christian has a specific memory of ending their relationship after 32 days, which Angela says didn’t happen. She says getting pregnant with Kittel was accidental, but he claims otherwise. Pick any part of their affair, and their accounts will differ. Accordingly, HE SHE I’s pattern is quickly and firmly established, both in a narrative and in a visual sense. Against established backgrounds, one of her parents relays their recollections of their time together, then the other watches it and disagrees.
A lone photographAs their first encounter, the night she was conceived, the aftermath, broaching the subject of possible termination and wrestling with paternity tests all enter the dialogue, Kittel switches perspectives, alternating between her mother and father, and swapping their roles between chatting and reacting. Born of their romance in 1986 — that didn’t last through Angela’s pregnancy — Kittel’s existence is one of the only things that they can agree on. Not only offering separate opinions but having lived separate lives in the three decades since, only a lone photograph of Angela and Christian together provides objective, tangible, indisputable proof that they ever shared the same space.
At a time when origin stories have become pervasive in popular cinema, HE SHE I could easily be seen in a comparable light, with a filmmaker exploring her own genesis. She is, and she’s also placing herself in the middle of her parents’ long-running, multi-layered tussle; however this personal tale has universal relevance. In her approach, Kittel isn’t just trying to understand her own life, but to also delve into the way in which people experience life — including the memories they make, the narratives they tell themselves and others, and the vast difference that can exist in the minds of two people interpreting the same events.
The filmmaker interviews her parents. | © Antenna Documentary Film Festival While the idea that we each carve our own path and see things in own ways isn’t new or novel, witnessing it in action in such specific circumstances is both powerful and revealing. Kittel asks questions occasionally, but largely lets HE SHE I unravel as a he said, she said-style juxtaposition that unearths the dynamic between her parents without ever putting them in the same room, and exposes the fallibility of our inner thoughts and feelings as a record of our lives. That’s not an easy realisation to confront: “the things she comes up with!” Christian exclaims, his anger palpable; “that’s outrageous!” Angela utters with evident exasperation. “Maybe we’re violating boundaries?” Kittel herself comments late in the piece when she sees the toll the film is taking on her mother and father. There’s no simple answer to her query, or to her overall probing, but diving into the process and its results is never less than illuminating.