Axolotl Overkill: Not that kind of movie
Tales of youthful excess often start at a low point, wade through raucousness and revelations, and arrive at their conclusion with a protagonist ready to face their encroaching maturity. ‘Axolotl Overkill’ is not that kind of movie.
Scenes of partying and rebellious teenage antics abound, but protagonist Mifti (Jasna Fritzi Bauer) isn’t radically altered as she hops through the hedonistic underbelly of Berlin. Instead, like the Mexican salamander that shares the movie’s name, the high schooler has already made the leap from adolescence to young adulthood without undergoing a prolonged period of metamorphosis.
Mifty is simply MiftiMifti is simply Mifti, both at the beginning of her exploits and when the film stops rolling, and perhaps that’s writer/director Helene Hegemann’s greatest gift in her first full-length feature. Perhaps that’s what happens when a filmmaker adapts her own best-selling, semi-autobiographical novel, which was penned when she was just 17. Expect a portrait of a teenager who acts rather than evolves, enters the movie with the same personality she leaves it with, and feels like she’s just walked out of class and into the frame — or could easily make the opposite trek — over a life lesson-filled, identity-shaping, soul-searching journey of discovery.
'Axolotl Overkill' sold out fast at Sydney Film Festival 2017. | © Sydney Film Festival Possessing a fresh face and nose for trouble, Mifti jumps around town wreaking mayhem, whether she’s disrespecting Germany’s tragic history on a school field trip, holing up in a hotel room with the much older Alice (Arly Jover), or accompanying actress Ophelia (Mavie Hörbiger) through multi-day drug-fuelled binges. Beneath her angsty behaviour, she’s still struggling with the recent death of her mother, being both physically and emotionally distanced from self-absorbed father (Bernhard Schütz), and living with her elder siblings (Julius Feldmeier and Laura Tonke); however, both Mifti and Hegemann recognise that clubbing, smoking, boozing and sex aren’t going to change any of that, and nor would having a deep and meaningful conversation with her family members or friends.
Life isn’t about growing upIndeed, Hegemann’s effort is striking in its candour; life isn’t about growing up but existing and weathering what comes at you, it posits. Splashed across the screen with adrenaline-surging energy, Axolotl Overkill is also striking to experience. Just as familiarity rears its head in its incident-filled escapades, so it does in its style — strobing lights, a thumping electronic soundtrack and dashes of surrealism fit the film perfectly, yet also remain hallmarks of the wayward teen genre. Still, fashioned around its commanding central character, every flash of brightness and pulsating note helps paint a vibrant and volatile, honest and no-holds-barred picture of just who Mifti is.
Helene Hegemann’s first full-length feature 'Axolotl Overkill'. | © Sydney Film Festival If it takes confidence to bring such a self-assured package together, as well a protagonist who fits the same description — and it does — then that’s something that Hegemann shares with her leading lady. In Axolotl Overkill’s matryoshka doll-like genesis from life to the page to the screen, it’s easy to see the latter playing a version of the former, but Bauer deserves just as much credit for imbuing Mifti with the kind of single-minded essence that’s both chaotic and clearly defined. Cool, calm and collected but also frenzied, fragile and furious, she’s at home with the character’s many, many contradictions. Cinema might frequently see stories like this, told in a similar manner but with a different message, but it doesn’t often provide female characters that are allowed to be their messy, multifaceted selves — or to wear their shambolic state not as a badge of honour, or something to be ashamed of, but as their usual outfit.
'Axolotl Overkill' screens at MIFF 2017. For more information check out the links on the right hand column.